Shelby County man takes long-awaited steps after being paralyzed for over 20 years

Paralyzed man working to walk again

SHELBY CO., Tenn. (WMC) - One Shelby County man is feeling extra thankful this holiday as he has a chance to be given a new step in life. John Payne was paralyzed more than 20 years ago, now he’s working to get his hands on new technology that could help the way he gets around.

The moment Payne tried ReWalk’s walking assistance technology it took a minute to process the achievement he made.

“It was an incredible experience and looking back on it, it was really emotional being able to stand up an stand up next to my dad,” Payne said

Payne, a Senior Operations Analyst at AutoZone, used the company’s walking assistance technology after a several year wait, but this moment was a long time coming.

Payne was just 18 in 1998 when he was paralyzed during a mountain bike race.

“Mentally the first couple of weeks in the hospital were tough,” Payne said.

The natural athlete said he’s competitive and it’s that competitive spirit, combined with a supportive family, that got him through his toughest days.

“I’m a very competitive person and once I got past the first couple of weeks I kind of got back to thinking I want to get back to as normal of a life that I can,” Payne said.

Payne said thanks to rehabilitation at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta he learned things can get back to normal.

Over the next 22 years, he got involved in wheelchair sports, started his job at AutoZone and recently got married.

Now he’s working hard at his next challenge -- walking again. To do that he’s going through the process of getting walking assistance technology from ReWalk.

“I would have it to use to walk around the neighborhood or go to the park,” said Payne.

About two years ago Payne reached out to Re-Walk about its technology allowing people with spinal cord injuries to stand up and walk. Then the pandemic hit, and his chance to try the technology out went on hold. However, in October, Payne was invited to North Carolina to finally see how it all works.

“A buddy of mine explained it best. It’s like driving through the mountains and you know the scenery is beautiful but you can’t see them because you’re focused on driving,” said Payne. “That’s what it was like when I was standing up for the first time. Still an incredible experience.”

Now, Payne is going through the insurance approval process to be able to own the piece of technology and use it in his life here in Shelby County. He said it won’t completely take the place of his wheelchair, but it will improve his health both physically, as it can be taxing on the body to sit for long periods of time, and emotionally.

“Just the emotional piece of being able to stand up and look people eye to eye,” he said.

Payne said the possibility of walking is an extra bonus to a life he considers pretty sweet.

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