A Marine Corps veteran who was confined to a wheelchair after a series of strokes is now walking this week. But it took him a while to get to this point--plenty of rehab and lots of determination.
David Villarreal, the former Marine Sergeant who served from 1981 to 1990, and a long time Texas resident, suffered four strokes in the past six years.
"Learning to breathe again, learning to eat, learning to tie my shoe, learning to clean myself, every time. It's like being born all over again," Villareal said. To see the full version of the interview, check it out below.
After his third stroke, a doctor said he'd never get out of bed. But after one meets Villarreal, one would understand why he never gave up. He did many hours of rehab and started riding a hand cycle, along with competing in local and national wheelchair games, winning numerous gold medals.
"Javelin, shotput, discus, basketball, baseball, hand cycling, rugby," he said, along with naming a number of other sports.
It did not come easy.
"As you progress and work hard, you start doing small things like opening a water bottle or tearing open a bag of chips or whatever you do, it's very emotional," he explained.
But Monday was the game changer when he strapped on the Bioness. It is a special device strapped to his leg which sends electrodes to his muscles. That allows him to finally walk again and he's already seeing a difference.
"My pain has dropped considerably. My hip doesn't hurt anymore because it stood me up, better posture. My back pains are gone," he said.
He showed Channel 6 Military Reporter Jillian Angeline how it works. The device has a battery that lasts about eight hours.
"When I move this thing, the electrical pulse kicks in and see how my foot turns around. And when the power goes, you see how the foot responds," Villarreal said.
He can now go far and it was time to surprise those who helped him get there like Kinesiotherapist Toby Johnson at the Olin Teague Veterans' facility in Temple.
"Look at you walking around," Johnson said, during the surprise encounter.
The vet inspires other stroke victims to work hard for a better life when he travels around the country. Villarreal is also improving dexterity in his hands and now he is playing the mandolin.