AUSTINTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Forty-one-year-old Stacey Kozel has been paralyzed since March 2014, after a car accident and from her Lupus disease, an inflammatory disease caused when the immune system attacks its own tissues.
Kozel is originally from Medina, Ohio and now lives in Madison. She got around with a wheelchair and braces that made her walk stiff-legged. The braces, she said, allowed her to move, but strained her upper body as she had to use her upper body muscles to move her legs.
But Monday at Western Reserve Orthotics and Prosthetics Centre in Austintown, Kozel was fitted with a C-Brace made by Ottobock, the world’s largest maker of Orthotics. The brace is designed for those living with partial paralysis, spinal injury, post-stroke and post-polio syndrome, according to the company’s website.
With the help of that brace, Kozel took her first steps to a round of applause.
The brace is designed to increase mobility, and Kozel said she sees a noticeable difference.
“It’s awesome,” she said. “As soon as I retrain my brain, this is going to be amazing — just bending my knees. I can already feel it more in the hips, where it’s not so strenuous.”
Kozel and those at Western Reserve Orthotics and Prosthetics Centre spent the past six months fighting with her insurance company, convincing the company to pay for the braces. It cost the insurance company $91,000.
Kozel said her dream is to walk the Appalachian Trail with the C-Brace and show insurance companies why it’s important for those in her circumstance to be active, healthy and get their lives back. She said she wants others to understand her struggles.
“Being in a hospital bed and not being able to do the basic, just the basic things: get out of bed, get dressed, you know, those kind of things, that was very hard,” she said.