In a high-rise office building on Leipziger Platz in Berlin, he slides out of his wheelchair onto a black leather pouf where a ReWalk exoskeleton sits folded. The black metal frame of the robotic machine, which has two powered legs and a control box that sits above the hip, mimics the lower half of the human body.
Van Rüschen positions himself between the legs of the exoskeleton. He straps on the sensor-laden motors at three points along his own legs: below the knees, above the knees and around his upper thighs. He then secures the control box on his lower back with velcro belts. With the machine clasped around the key joints needing support, he slowly slips his hands into a couple of black crutches and hits the "stand" button on the round remote strapped around his left wrist. A couple of beeps later, he leans his upper body forward as the machine makes a whirring sound as it pushes him into a standing position.
Moments later, when van Rüschen hits another button on his watch-like remote, his right foot moves forward, followed by the left. He uses his upper body strength to shift his weight between his feet as he walks out of the building onto the streets of Berlin.
Van Rüschen was one of the first European testers of the exoskeleton from ReWalk, a company that builds robotic systems to enable people with spinal cord injuries to stand, walk and even climb stairs again. He applied to receive a personal ReWalk machine three and a half years ago and has tested every iteration of the exoskeleton since then.
He uses the ReWalk every day in Oldenburg, Germany, where he lives with his wife and 13-year-old son who was born five months after his accident. "When I had my first system at home, my wife immediately burst into tears," says van Rüschen. "Of course, my son had only ever seen me in a wheelchair...He looked up at me and the first thing he said was: "Daddy, you're so tall!"
Before his accident, van Rüschen worked as a car painter in his family-run business, but now he works for ReWalk and is often invited to demonstrate the strengths of the company's exoskeleton technology at corporate conventions and fairs.