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Eagles Club looking to raise funds to benefit disabled veterans

Columbus Telegram - 12/26/2018

Dec. 26--Cheri Bollig and David 'Hondo' Locke go way back, far before they took over key leadership roles within the Nebraska State Fraternal Order of Eagles organization in June 2018.

Both attended and graduated from Columbus High School and were familiar with one another before being named state auxiliary president and aerie president, respectively.

"We knew each other long before we were presidents, obviously," Locke said, during a recent interview with The Telegram. "And it's definitely a little ironic, but it's working out well. We are from the same town, went to the same school and our parents even did business together. So it seems like this (relationship) has come full circle."

Locke could be on to something, considering the two are collaborating in an effort to raise $150,000 statewide by June 2019 to provide rehabilitation centers in Nebraska access to a bionic exoskeleton suit. The contraption enables disabled veterans -- under the supervision of a rehabilitation specialist -- the ability to leave the constraints of their wheelchairs and get their legs back under them, so to speak.

Not only does the exoskeleton help them walk, being in the standing position also helps these veterans have better bowel and bladder function, promotes physiological and psychological gains, increases muscle movement, prevents joints from locking and growing together, prevents pressure sores and infection, and helps with patients' overall digestive systems, Bollig said.

Currently, Bollig said there are fewer than 10 bionic exoskeletons circulating the U.S., noting that one is being utilized at CHI Health Center in Omaha. One of the major reasons why the number of exoskeletons is minimal is because of the sky-high dollar amount attached to the fully-computerized suits. In addition to the six-figure asking price, Bollig said that it costs about another $30,000 to train therapists.

Although reaching the necessary cash figure won't be easy, Columbus residents can play a role in aiding disabled veterans by making donations locally to benefit the cause. The easiest way to donate, Bollig said, is to drop off cash or checks at the local Fraternal Order of Eagles, 3205 12th St. Those looking to save themselves a drive are also encouraged to donate online at www.foe.com.

Every state charter of the Eagles Club completes philanthropic activity annually, but this particular fundraiser strikes a chord with both Bollig and Locke.

"David (Locke) is a veteran, and my husband is a disabled veteran, and because of our military backgrounds we chose to do something that will help veterans walk again," Bollig said.

And the need truly is there. Information provided by the National Fraternal Order of Eagles highlights how 49,000 veterans with spinal injuries in 2009 received care through Veterans Affairs.

"Nationally, they brought it to our attention through one of our conventions," Locke said. "And with me being in the military and a whole lot of others (club members) being in the military, I thought that this seemed like a great project, and Cheri agreed."

Adding another exoskeleton to Nebraska therapists' arsenal would be great, Locke added, noting what a difference the existing suit is making.

"I think it would be huge, and the one at CHI in Omaha is actually the one that has the most steps (taken)," he said.

Sam Pimper is the news editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at sam.pimper@lee.net

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