Robot helping severely injured Disney World cast member walk again

Declan Graham, 22, is working up a sweat, learning to walk again, with the help of a robot named Hal.

Declan and Hal are partners today because of what happened in May 2021.

While leaving his job at Disney’s Animal Kingdom aboard his green motorcycle, Declan lost control of the bike and was hit by another driver on the road.

"I went straight into the guardrail at 40 mph," recalls Graham.

 The car driver, still unknown, never stopped to help. Declan broke 7 ribs. Shattered his spine. Punctured both lungs and was paralyzed from the waist down.

"Bowel, bladder, legs… I couldn’t move anything," says Graham. 

He spent 6 months intensively recovering in the hospital. Much of that treatment at a facility called Brooks Rehabilitation. 

That’s where Hal lives.

"Hal stands for Hybrid Assisted Limb. And the company is Cyberdyne. The inventor was a little bit of a sci-fi fan," laughs Carolyn Tremblay, General Manager of Brooks Osceola Clinic.

But unlike the antagonists of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Terminator, Cyberdyne and Hal in real life are all about improving life for those who need help getting mobile again.

"Hal has these connectors here. They're called electrodes. The electrodes go on 18 different points on the person's body, and it helps to pick up the signal the brain is sending to the limb. The robot figures out what the brain wants and helps the body move,"  says Tremblay. "So when somebody has a stroke or a brain injury or an incomplete spinal cord injury, sometimes that signal is decreased. Hal helps to amplify it and reteach the body what to do. It's actually really neat."

Hal first made national news when rocker Ozzy Osbourne revealed that he was using the Cyberdyne product to help with his back injury.

Here in Florida, Hal is only at the Jacksonville and Kissimmee locations of the rapidly expanding Brooks Rehabilitation. And word is getting out, because people are coming from all over the country to strap in.

"We found that when you bring the highest level licensed clinicians with the highest level technology, you have amazing outcomes with the patients. And Declan is just a testimony to that," says Tom Langer, Brooks Rehabilitation Outpatient Regional Director. "Taking those neurotransmitters from the brain and bringing them down to the lower extremities to allow somebody to walk again when perhaps they've been told that they'll never get out of the wheelchair. It's pretty amazing technology."

Impactful too.

Hal, the 40-pound robot friend, has helped hundreds of people walk again in just the past few years.

And while the robot hasn’t been able to get Declan back on a motorcycle yet, Hal has helped Declan get back to work at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

"I knew I was going to be able to walk again. I just knew. I had to be confident and positive and faithful," says Graham.