Amanda's dream

Peter Williams
Amanda Boxtel injured her spinal cord in a skiing accident in 1992. Doctors told Amanda she would never walk again. It took Amanda many years to accept her disability. But she never stopped dreaming of walking again. Amanda has learnt many new skills since her accident. The care and support she received also inspired her to help others. Amanda began stem cell therapy. Amanda felt movement returning to her legs. Then her dream came true. A robotic suit called an exoskeleton allowed her to walk again. She is now helping to improve the technology.
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Peter Williams on 21/06/2011
Amanda Boxtel standing and smiling in a factory. She is wearing a large backpack and is holding crutches

Amanda Boxtel's dream of walking again has come true. Image: Sarah Peet

Amanda Boxtel injured her spinal cord in a skiing accident in 1992. She lost all feeling and movement in her legs. She was 24 when told she would never walk again. Amanda's first reaction was denial. She says she had an internal fighting instinct and desire to defy the odds.

Amanda lives in the United States in a town called Basalt. It is near Aspen, Colorado. The care and support she received after her accident inspired Amanda to help others. Amanda co-founded a program to help people with a disability participate in outdoor activities. Activities include skiing, snowboarding and horse riding. She also began a project to buy 200 wheelchairs for people in Argentina. The wheelchairs have helped provide dignity and independence.

Acceptance and hope

It took Amanda many years to accept her disability. But Amanda says she realised acceptance did not meaning abandoning hope that she could get more from her body. I have arrived at the conclusion that acceptance and hope must coexist, says Amanda. I learned that if I accept my body for what it is today, it frees me to be hopeful for what it can be tomorrow. Amanda is also grateful for the support she received from family. The unconditional love and undying encouragement from my mother compelled me to keep going.

Amanda has learned new skills and pursued varied interests since her accident. I became a better skier than I ever was before, says Amanda. (I have) learned to teach skiing to others from my mono-ski. Amanda has also learned to rock climb, water ski, kayak, and paraglide. She also travelled extensively.

Walking again

Amanda began stem cell therapy in 2007. She had six courses of treatment over three years. The treatment has been successful. My embryonic stem cells continue to slowly gestate, says Amanda. (They are) bringing renewed life with muscle power and sensation to my limbs.

Recently Amanda's dream of walking again has come true. A robotic suit called an exoskeleton allowed her to walk again. The suit is fitted to Amanda's legs and torso. Being introduced to the robotic exoskeleton was as though my wildest imaginings were burgeoning to life, Amanda says. I am in control of triggering my legs to take their own steps. Amanda now helps engineers at Berkeley Bionics to improve the exoskeleton.

There are limitations with current exoskeleton technology. At present people need use of their arms. Engineers are working on an exoskeleton for people who cannot use their arms. They are also working on making the exoskeleton feel more like a part of the user's body.

Pioneering path

Amanda has come along way in her journey to walk again. She hopes even more can be achieved. I'm grateful to live in an era of technological advancement, Amanda says. I can help chart a pioneering path that will open up possibilities for others.

Amanda refuses to set limits on what she can accomplish. I envision my future of walking again on my favourite beach in Australia with my Mum, Amanda says. And climbing a steep mountain trail in the Colorado Rockies. Anything is possible. This is just the beginning.

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