April 29, 2015      

In June 2013, Nathan Kirwan fell from a tree and severed his spinal cord, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down.

On May 3, 2015, the 26-year-old from Ireland will walk in a marathon with the help of an exoskeleton. Kirwan, who is 85% paralyzed, is attempting take 55,000 steps over the next five months to raise money to keep the exoskeleton in Ireland.

The exoskeleton, named Lazarus, is made by Ekso Bionics, and it’s Ireland’s first gym-based exoskeleton, and it costs €150,000 ($167,000). The Elite Gym in Cork is currently renting the exoskeleton to help patients suffering from spinal injuries learn to walk again, but it will be returned to the manufacturer if it’s not completely financed by October 2015.

To keep the exoskeleton around, Nathan is asking the public to donate €2 for every step he takes during this ‘Walk with Me Challenge.’

“Physical exercise is essential for everyone, especially wheelchair users, and the exoskeleton gives users the benefits of walking,” Kirwan tells TheJournal.ie. “Naturally enough it enhances blood flow, retains bone density, reduces muscle atrophy and promotes better bladder and bowel function. Users have reported being elated and having an enormous sense of well-being following use.”

Lazarus is the only exoskeleton available to the public in Ireland, helping those who also suffer stroke or MS. People from France have also traveled to use the exoskeleton.

After spending time in intensive care and the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dun Laoghaire, Nathan set about adjusting to life in a wheelchair and re-learning how to do simple tasks that anyone would take for granted. That’s when he came across Lazarus.

The “Walk with Me challenge” will officially get underway at the Wings for Life World Run in Dublin on May 3, a charity that raises funds for research projects dedicated to finding a cure for spinal cord injury.