Stephen Wilson is poised to earn his Masters Degree in Biomedical Engineering in two short months, but as daunting as that endeavor may seem, he also still finds some time to serve as one of ReWalk’s brand ambassadors for their game-changing bionic walking-assistance system, commonly labeled as a robotic exoskeleton. In addition to traveling around the US with ReWalk to demonstrate their signature product, Stephen manages to excel in his hectic and demanding Graduate School program, with the end goal of becoming an innovator in the Medical Device industry.
Age: I’m an old man, I’m 33. (This was met with a bit of offense by the interviewer, who is a couple of years older!)
Occupation & Education: I’m a full-time graduate student at USC, working toward a Masters in Biomedical engineering, graduating in May 2017. I also hold a Bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering from USC. I’m also a US ReWalk Brand Ambassador. I talk about the device. I have a spinal cord injury so I understand the device, and in addition that, I’m an engineer, so I understand the device from that respect, so I share the device with potential users. Also, I go around to hospitals and speak to them and VA hospitals about it throughout rehab centers mostly on the West Coast, including California, Oregon, Washington, Utah, Minnesota, etc.
Injury Level: L1
Cause of Injury (tell us your story!): In October 2007, I was driving back from a long roadtrip at night, fell asleep with my cruise control set, and I veered off the road and crashed at freeway speed on interstate 80. It was over the mountain pass around Lake Tahoe, so I drove right into a mountain.
Hometown: Anchorage, Alaska
Current residence: Downtown Los Angeles
Accomplishment you’re proud of? My Bachelor’s degree was a big milestone, but my Master’s degree will of course be an even more important milestone
Favorite band/kind of music/musician: I grew up listening to Classic Rock because my Dad introduced me to it, and he raised me, so it will always have a special place in my heart. It also varies depending on what I’m doing, whether I’m working out, driving in the car, hanging out with friends, or going out, it could range from hiphop/R&B to Alternative Rock.
Favorite films? I like Action movies, but some of the good movies I’ve seen recently, the first one I’m embarrassed to admit on the record, is Lala Land, but I also liked Moonlight. I would’ve chosen Lala Land over Moonlight [at the Oscars] but the thing I liked about Moonlight is it’s a great movie that was original, and they did it with a small budget and with many no-name actors, so I give them a lot of credit for that. It was something that went against mainstream topics that a lot of people wouldn’t have the guts to produce a movie about.
Favorite books; favorite authors? I hate reading
Favorite restaurant/food? Type of food would probably be Pizza or BBQ. Actually my favorite restaurant would be steak: Mastros Steakhouse [in Los Angeles] – it’s the best steak I’ve ever had in my life.
Favorite beverage? My vice would be Coke in a glass bottle (in CA, they call it “Mexican coke” [made with real sugar, not high-fructose corn syrup]). I go down to visit my dad in Central America and it’s everywhere – everything you buy there is in a glass bottle.
Do you own a car? What make? Yes, Audi A6
Where did you go on your last vacation? Dallas for the Alabama v. USC game. Internationally, last year I went to Costa Rica for Spring Break and to visit my Dad, who lives there.
Do you have a pet? What? Sierra, an 11-year old female black lab
Do you go out much? Not too much around LA because of school, but I might study with some other students and then get a beer with them somewhere around campus. But if I do go out I try to get together with my good friend and former college roommate, whom I was living with when I had my accident – he now lives in San Jose and works in sales, so he travels a lot. If he’s in LA or I go up to San Jose, we like to go out and catch up.
What’s your dream job? My dream job would be working in the medical device industry helping with the development, design or implementation probably working in cardiovascular health. Spinal Cord Injury products, which are currently only focused on pain management, unfortunately represent a much smaller market in the device industry. Other products, such as FES (functional electrical stimulation or spinal stimulation) are not currently FDA-approved.
What is your biggest pet peeve? I don’t know where to start! I hate Traffic, I hate trying to find accessible parking – in certain places, it’s Mission Impossible trying to find a handicapped spot
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live? Hawaii
What do you do in your free time? I spend a lot of time with my dog so I enjoy taking her for walks. Also, I love traveling – that’s my #1 favorite thing to do – especially traveling internationally. I really enjoy going to see sporting events, whether it’s NFL or college football – I’m a big USC Trojans fan, obviously, and I’m a 49ers fan – they kinda suck right now, so there’s not much going on with them… But I like going to watch USC football games, home and away, and I really love going to amusement parks like Six Flags or Knotts Berry Farm. The only thing about Six Flags is you gotta be prepared for some of the really jerky rides that stop and start abruptly, all while your legs are dangling.
What do you wish you had more time for? Traveling is my favorite thing to do: I love travel. I’m trying to plan a summer trip to somewhere in Asia.
Favorite original Nintendo game? It’s gotta be the original Super Mario Brothers
Your default karaoke song? I don’t do karaoke.
Anything else you want to tell us? When I first was injured, all I could think about was what I couldn’t do and how difficult things were going to be – that was a big hurdle for me to get over. I didn’t want to go out and do too many things or socialize because I was under the impression that I would just heal and eventually get back to my normal life. But with time, I realized it’s more important to focus on what you CAN do and there are a lot of things that you’re still able to do – there’s a lot of good adaptive technology out there. It may take a little more planning, but don’t be afraid to try new things. Also, traveling internationally – I never considered doing that before, but I realized we’re able to do a lot more things than we may think.
I just went mono-skiing a couple weeks ago at Big Bear – something I never would’ve even considered doing – but now I’m bummed I haven’t been doing it ever since I had my injury.
How was it? It was great – I loved it. If you used to love to ski, you’d especially love it. I went to Big Bear [which is very close to LA], but now I’m going up to Mammoth to do it again in two weeks.
I’d like to try it, but my mom begged me not to go, asking me, “Do you want to break your neck AGAIN? You can’t live in fear – we’ve got to live life – life goes on. Don’t be afraid – the worst has already happened… that’s how I look at it.
If we were to peek into your refrigerator, what would we find? You’d be impressed today – It’s pretty full! I just went to Costco. I’m trying to be healthy so I’ve got water, lots of produce, fruits and vegetables. My freezer’s full of frozen chicken breasts and salmon.
You must be cooking a bunch also, I assume? I’m trying – that’s what I’ve been doing the past few weeks. I’ve been working out a lot but not losing any weight so I figure I have to incorporate a healthy diet too.