Zac Vawter, 31, made history yesterday by becoming the first amputee to scale all 103 floors of the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) during the annual “SkyRise Chicago” fundraiser for the windy city’s Rehabilitation Institute.
Vawter, who lost his right leg in a motorcycle accident felt he needed to show his appreciation to the Institute for providing him with a new lease on life.
“’One of the reasons I wanted to do this was because I was so thankful for everything the RIC have done for me. I wanted to pay them back. Before the accident I loved to run and afterwards I didn’t think I would ever be able to be so active again.
The leg, which is controlled by Vawter’s thoughts resonds to electical impulses from muscles in his hamstrings which trigger the motors, belts and chains in the limb to synchronize the movements of the knee and ankle.
“Everything went great,” said Vawter after completing his climb of approximately 2,100 steps up to the Willis Tower’s SkyDeck level in about 45 minutes.”The prosthetic leg did its part, and I did my part.”
The bionic limb is designed to respond to electrical impulses from muscles in his hamstring. When Vawter thought about climbing the stairs, the motors, belts and chains in his leg synchronized the movements of its ankle and knee.
While computerized prosthetic arms and hands have been available for a few years, (thanks to pioneering work done at the Rehabilitation Institute), statistics show that leg amputees outnumber people who have lost their upper limbs. As a result, new efforts are being focused by RIC researchers to develop more sophisitcated replacement for lower limbs as part of an $8 million project funded by the U.S. Department of Defense and involves Vanderbilt University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Rhode Island and the University of New Brunswick.
Vawter’s feat was in fact part of a research project for us, said Joanne Smith, the Rehabilitation Institute’s CEO, who added that he will have to leave the leg behind when he returns to his home in Yelm, WA. “Our team will continue to refine its steering. Taking it to the market is still years away, stated Smith.
Approximately 2,700 climbers joined Vawter in the annual charity event including Senator Mark Kirk, who used the charity event to make his first major appearance since suffering a major stroke. Kirk walked 37 floors (beginning on the 66th).
To learn more about the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago contact them at 3435 E. Superior St., Chicago, IL 60611 800 354-7342.