The incredible technology that’s helping this paralyzed woman hike the Appalachian Trail

Most people would have given up years ago. She is not most people.

41-year-old Medina, Ohio, resident Stacey Kozel has undertaken an enormous task: hiking the entire 2,190 miles of the Appalachian Trail. For most, that would be a mighty feat unto itself, but Kozel has an additional obstacle, to put it lightly: her legs are paralyzed.

Kozel was diagnosed with lupus when she was 19 years old, and it has slowly stolen much of her muscle function during the past 22 years.

Lupus is an autoimmune disorder that causes the immune system to attack healthy tissue. It affects everyone differently, and symptoms can be cyclical. That’s how it has been for Kozel — every couple of years, she would have what she termed a “flare-up.”

In her case, the disease directly attacked her central nervous system during each flare-up, causing her to lose muscle function. In March 2014, the disease dealt her legs a death blow.

From her electric wheelchair, she desperately searched the Web for anything that could help. Eventually, she found the Ottobock C-Brace. To call it a brace is a little simplistic, because it functions more as a mechanical exoskeleton. It allows someone with paralyzed legs to walk again because, in essence, it does the walking for you.

As she wrote on Appalachian Trials:

“My goal is to bring awareness to these braces so people know they exist and hopefully it gives more people the ability to get out of their wheelchairs and out exploring the world. There are people that qualify for these braces that either do not know they exist or it gets stopped with an insurance denial. I hope WHEN I make it back to Mt. Katahdin on my thru hike, insurance companies will have a much tougher time telling others that the braces are “not necessary.”

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