Photographers' Blog

A bionic feat

November 5, 2012

Chicago, Illinois

By John Gress

Most of us climb stairs.

Some of us do it for exercise, some of us do it because there is no other option.

Many of us would complain that it’s a burden to ascend three floors, but for Zac Vawter climbing to the third floor of the Willis Tower on Sunday was an accomplishment – making it to the 103rd floor was historic.

Vawter took approximately 2100 steps to climb 1353 feet with the world’s first neural-controlled Bionic leg, according to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. Their Center for Bionic Medicine has worked to develop technology that allows amputees, like Vawter, to better control prosthetics with their own thoughts.

The first time I heard of the bionic leg was in April of 2011, when I watched 20-year-old Hailey Daniswicz, who lost most of her left leg to bone cancer, operate the leg of a computer avatar using her thoughts and electrodes attached to what was left of her own leg. It was inspiring seeing the technology and the sheer joy it brought to Daniswicz’s face.

Seeing Vawter, who lost his right leg to a motorcycle accident, now use the same technology to scale the Willis Tower, only made me wonder just how difficult his journey has been and just how empowering this moment must have been for the father of two. I am sure the joy he felt is something many of us have never experienced.

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