RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps to keep up the fight for our country’s independence, but now Lance Corporal Josh Burch is fighting for his own.
“It was all kind of a blur,” he remembers while taking a break from his physical therapy at Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center in Richmond.
Burch, just 20-years-old at the time, broke his neck this past September while serving in Guam.
“That’s all I know,” he says. “I don’t know how it happened or anything.”
“It’s the phone call no parent ever wants to get,” recalls Josh’s mom, Emily Burch, who was at home in Chester.
Twenty-four hours later, she was on a plane to Hawaii where Josh, who she calls her baby, was in surgery. From there, he flew to McGuire for care.
“He had a cervical collar, he had limited mobility, he wasn’t able to move his arms,” Emily remembers.
Fast forward to this day, five months later, and Josh is about to do what once seemed impossible. Just two hours prior, he learned he would be able to walk again thanks to a robotic exoskeleton.
After strapping him in and configuring the system, two therapists and a doctor lift Josh and allow him to take his first tentative step. The suit beeps as he takes another step and another. Emily watches with tears in her eyes as her son, her Marine hero, finds his footing again.
“Trying to concentrate, keeping my balance, pushing this and leaning back and forth,” Josh tells 8News Anchor Amy Lacey about the experience.
He is learning to move in a new way and adds to his list of firsts these past few months in therapy.
Dr. Ashraf Gorgey, Director of Spinal Cord Injury Research at McGuire, says it is a major milestone for Josh’s emotional, mental and physical well-being.
“Imagine yourself sitting in a chair for five months unable to move, so this was really good.”
Dr. Gorgey adds that walking a few times a week in the exoskeleton will help Josh prevent many of the issues spinal cord patients have, like blood clots and reduced pulmonary function.
During his walk, Josh is a man and Marine of few words.
“I was excited to do this,” he says simply.
His mom looking on, however, says it all. This is a day they had only dreamt about, but 242 steps later it is very real.
“This was amazing,” she says. “There’s just great things ahead.”