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Wearable robot powered by Sheltering Arms helps local graduate walk across stage

On Monday, two of Watson’s therapists at Sheltering Arms Institute will help him utilize cutting-edge robotic technology to walk across the stage and receive his diploma, a walk seven years in the making.

Trevor Dickerson

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A wearable robotic exoskeleton that has enabled more than 125 million steps around the world is helping one young man walk across the stage at his college graduation this week.

In May 2016, just weeks before his high school graduation, Khalil Watson was shot in the neck causing a devastating spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed. Instead of walking across the stage to receive his diploma from Highland Springs High School as he had planned, Watson streamed his graduation ceremony from a hospital bed.

Since his injury seven years ago, Watson—now 25—has worked tirelessly to regain his mobility and independence, relearning how to breathe, eat, speak, and care for himself. “One of my goals is to be as independent as possible,” Watson said. “When we started therapy after Khalil’s injury, he needed significant assistance for any mobility. Now, he is progressively increasing the amount of movement he can do on his own. Every time I see him, he masters a new skill,” added Christina Smith, PT, DPT, NCS, physical therapist at Sheltering Arms Institute.

Another one of Watson’s goals was to continue his education. In 2019, he began working on his associate degree in pre-social work from Reynolds Community College. “Helping people is something that I’m passionate about,” Watson said about why it was important for him to earn his degree. “Going through what I’ve had to go through and am still going through makes it easier for me to connect with people who are either going through a similar situation or worse.”

On Monday, two of Watson’s therapists at Sheltering Arms Institute will help him utilize cutting-edge robotic technology to walk across the stage and receive his diploma, a walk seven years in the making. “Being able to walk across the stage will mean everything to me, especially since I wasn’t able to do so in high school. I can finally say all of my hard work has paid off,” Watson said.

This fall, Watson plans to transfer to VCU to earn his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work.

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Trevor Dickerson is the Editor and Co-Founder of RVAHub.