By Suzanne Le Mignot
CHICAGO (WBBM/CNN) - A man who lost part of his leg in an accident is back on two feet once again. He's wearing a bionic leg that's controlled by his brain waves.
The doctors at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago say this could mean a different life for amputees.
"So I move my leg out, push the toes down and bring my toes back up," said Zac Vawter.
Vawter is the first man in the nation to have a bionic leg.
Reporter: "When you took that first step, what was that like?"
"It's exciting, it's neat, it's intuitive. It puts energy into me walking and moving around," said Vawter.
In 2009, Vawter lost his right leg from the knee down in a motorcycle accident. His bionic leg allows for knee bending and ankle movement.
"Probably the most exciting is doing stairs for the first time is really awesome," he said.
With a regular prosthetic leg, movement like this isn't possible.
So how does this all work? Two nerves in Vawter's leg were rewired to his hamstring muscle. Those nerves communicate with the sensors inside the prosthetic leg socket. The sensors send a message to a computer.
"So when he thinks about straightening or bending his knee, this computer can detect that and tell the knee to bend or to straighten," said biomedical engineer Dr. Annie Simon.
A team, headed by Dr. Levi Hargrove, spent four years perfecting the technology Vawter is using.
"He's giving back so much. He's taken a less than ideal situation and made the most of it and he's helping potentially, millions of people," said Dr. Hargrove.
Vawter, a software engineer, knew about RIC's bionic research. He never thought one day, that technology would be used to help him walk.
"RIC is really pushing the boundaries of what's possible with prosthetics and it's exciting to contribute to that and to help them push forward into new areas of research," said Vawter.
RIC research is funded through an $8 million grant from the U.S. Army with a goal of creating better prosthetic limbs. More than 1,200 soldiers have had lower limb amputations from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.