Imagine a giant video game. But the players in this game are missing limbs. Or have brain injuries. They are Afghan vets. Or rehab patients, using a 3-D virtual reality lab at the Ottawa Hospital Rehabilitation Centre to re-learn how to walk. Neil Levette has been using the virtual reality lab for a couple of months, after losing his right leg to sepsis, a massive infection that crept up his leg last July and nearly killed him.

"I woke up minus my leg in the hospital,” says Levette, “and I said to myself we have to start this and went from there.”

From there, in the hospital bed, to here, inside the Virtual Reality Lab at the Ottawa Hospital Rehabilitation Centre.

Today, Levette is going for a virtual boat ride, controlling the direction of the boat by shifting the weight from his real leg to his prosthetic limb. Safely hooked to a harness, Levette can experiment in this virtual world in ways he wouldn’t in the real world.

"It's been just a huge confidence builder because again you're safe here and you've got the people (working here) who will shut the machine off if you get into trouble or you can just end up embarrassed, dangling from the chord.”

Levette is doing so well here; it's almost like a walk in the park. The million-dollar lab, the first of its kind in Canada, does simulate a walk in the park, over rocky terrain, even over a swinging suspended bridge. The facility is a partnership between the Ottawa Hospital and the Department of National Defence.

"The Forces paid for the equipment,” says Courtney Bridgewater, the lab operator, “and the hospital paid for the renovations to put the equipment somewhere so their soldiers could get the best care.”

But rehab patients throughout this region are benefitting as well. A thousand patients have used it since it was first established at the Ottawa Hospital nearly three years ago. Those working in the field of rehabilitation say the technology has revolutionized patient care.

"All you have to do is look outside today,” says Dr. Nancy Dudek, a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist, “with all the ice and snow and realize how limited we previously were in providing challenging environments outside that were safe prior to having this type of equipment.”

And challenging it is. Neil Levette works up a sweat as he wobbles along the suspension bridge, managing to catch himself before he falls.

“Good recovery,” says Bridgewater from behind the controls.

Levette says the virtual reality lab has helped get him back on his feet.

“It's (given me) the confidence and the ability to be back in the community doing the things I love doing,” he says, “I am enjoying life again.”