Man walks again with exoskeleton after Perris skydiving accident

Skydiving is often referred to as "human flight," but it turned into a nightmare for Jeremy Newman.

He spent his Memorial Day weekend skydiving in Perris 19 years ago and that day changed his life forever when he fell to the ground at 100 mph.

"I'm a self-proclaimed adrenaline junkie and I love the feeling of the rush," he said.

That adrenaline rush is why Newman is in a wheelchair today. That Memorial Day weekend, Newman was going with a more experienced diver. But Newman wanted to go faster, which he said led him to "ego malfunction No. 1"

He said he reached up and grabbed the outside lines of his parachute, quickly yanking them in. It worked and Newman ended up traveling faster through the air, but it led to what he calls "ego malfunction No. 2."

"I reached up and tried to do the same thing again, trying to collapse another set of endsails and my entire canopy collapsed. When that occurred, I'm now coming down in a streamer," he said.

When a malfunction such as a streamer happens, divers are taught to instantly deploy their reserve parachute.

But Newman had a quick flashback of his childhood where he was being teased for being overweight, which resulted in him not wanting the instructor to question if he was messing around too much in the dive.

"The altimeter is on my wrist...I'm looking at it at an angle. So when I'm looking at it at an angle, it's not giving me the precise altitude that I was at. So I went to pull my reserve shoot, but it was too late - hit the ground at 100 mph," he said. "I didn't know if I was dead or alive. I knew that I couldn't move and I wasn't really breathing."

Newman flatlined twice: once in the helicopter and again after the emergency surgery to repair the ruptured valve in his heart.

Time was of the essence for Dr. Michael Del Rio. He spent 13 hours repairing Newman's aorta. Dr. Siegel did a majority of Newman's 27 surgeries. But after everything was OK, Siegel ended up hiring Newman as a personal trainer.

"I don't want to destroy his optimism and his enthusiasm. I don't think he'll ever be able to have full function of those legs ever again," Siegel said.

Last month, Newman was fitted with an exoskeleton with re-walk technology. He was on his feet again, walking for the first time since his accident.

Newman has a long road ahead, but he continues to move forward.

"I'm actually grateful for having hit the ground at 100 miles an hour," he said. "I honestly believe that hitting the ground at 100 miles an hour saved my life. Because I truly believe if I had not hit the ground, I would either be dead or in prison."
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