HE HADN'T walked in 15 years but Padraig Hanafin is back on his feet thanks to a specially designed frame.
The 31-year-old is paralysed from the chest down as a result of a fall from a wall in the family garden at Ballyferriter, Co Kerry when he was 16-years-old.
He was confined to a wheelchair but then heard about breakthrough treatment at the Rehab group, where he works in the communications department.
Padraig has no use of his legs or hands and only limited use of his arms.
Yet he feels hopeful that he will walk again one day thanks to ground-breaking research into spinal cord injury.
Before Christmas, Padraig took his first steps with the aid of a bionic exoskeleton.
He did so under the supervision of two psychotherapists at the Elite Gym in Cork before Christmas.
Admitting it felt "strange" and "familiar", Padraig revealed the best part of the experience was standing up and being able to hug his girlfriend Anna and feeling like "an ordinary couple".
Initially, Padraig was assessed as a possible candidate to try the suit and after a shaky start, Padraig walked with its aid for half an hour.
"I walked 206 steps and it was very emotional," he said.
"The best thing for me was standing upright and being able to hug my girlfriend Anna properly and to look just like any ordinary couple walking down the street.
"When I left Rehab 15 years ago I thought I'd never walk again but this has made me think how far things have come in those 15 years.
"The bionic exoskeleton is only another form of rehabilitation to keep the body fit and active for any cures that might come along," he said.
Padraig says he was given a lot of hope by an operation carried out in Poland last year where nasal cells taken from a patient and inserted into his spine of a paralysed man restored bladder and bowel function and some leg movement.
Since his accident, Padraig has earned three Master's degrees from UCC and leads a busy life.
"If I was asked would I turn back the clock if I could, I'd have to think long and hard about it.
"A lot of the experiences I've had in life were because of the accident," he said.