My Insurance Claim after Paralysis

Last week I was in court in the UK about the fall that left me paralysed in 2010.

For legal reasons I could not talk about the case and in that vacuum there have been unbalanced accounts of the court proceedings in the media.

Whatever the court’s judgment I wanted to explain to you why I took this case. To talk as directly as possible with all of you who’ve supported me to build a life after paralysis; those who contribute to the Mark Pollock Trust and who are involved in Run in the Dark.

Public Liability Insurance Policy

The headlines that said that I was suing my friends were misleading and provocative. My claim was made where there was a public liability insurance policy in place to meet the cost of accidents like mine. Most house insurance policies contain such cover for this exact purpose. Therefore the insurance company’s solicitors defended the case. My friends did not have to hire their own solicitors. They did not have any legal costs. They were never at risk of having to compensate me from their own pockets for the costs I bear as a result of my injury.

Limiting the Claim

It is important to me that you know that I expressly limited my claim for damages to the cap on my friends’ insurance policy. This is a fraction of the financial cost I bear as a result of the fall. But I did not think it fair that my friends would have even one moment of worry that they would have to personally pay me a penny.

Why I Took this Case

This was the culmination of a process that took almost 5 years. During my initial 7 month stay in the National Spinal Injuries Centre in the UK the other paralysed patients and I were advised by healthcare professionals, social workers and legal experts. They told me that life after spinal cord injury is incredibly tough and in their experience it is especially so for those who do not receive a payment of damages for their injury.

Spinal cord injury is described as a ‘catastrophic injury’ because not only is it horrific for its physical and life-altering aspects, it is also prohibitively expensive. As the press reported, the costs when anyone is paralysed run to the millions.

I was told to check all possible sources of insurance and home insurance policies. So, as part of the process, I established that my friends had home insurance to meet my claim.

The Mark Pollock Trust

While I was still in hospital some friends at home set up the Mark Pollock Trust and its independent board of Trustees. Supporters began donating, volunteering their time and expertise and, eventually, taking part in Run in the Dark. The Mark Pollock Trust’s mission soon became to find and connect people worldwide to fast track a cure for paralysis. Most recently we employed a research scientist to help build a spinal cord injury research program in Dublin.

Those involved with the Trust also felt it was not right to ask individuals for financial support if I did not pursue this insurance policy in place for the very purpose of covering some of the costs associated with my injury. The only reason not to continue with the case was that it would be tough on everyone concerned. Of course, no one wants to have to involve their friends, or family for that matter, in litigation.

But the insurer would not discuss settlement of my claim and it became clear they would only pay if a judge sitting in court after a full hearing established legal liability. My solicitor issued proceedings and I instructed him to write to the insurance company’s solicitors to tell them that I was limiting my claim to the value of the policy and that they must tell my friends this, which they did.

Legal Costs

To be absolutely clear I confirm that no money at all from either the Mark Pollock Trust, Run in the Dark or any other fundraising done in my name has been used to finance this case in any way, ever.

And finally…

I hope you understand that I took this case because it was not right to carry out public fundraising without also making a claim on a public liability policy in place for the purpose of covering some of my care and rehabilitation costs. I took both expert advice and advice from my friends and many of you who have supported me through some really tough decisions, but ultimately I took this case because I believed that it was the right thing to do in the circumstances.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

Regards,

Mark

Polar Titans & Our Own Intrinsic Motivation

Last Sunday I dropped into The South Pole Inn in Annascaul, Co. Kerry to honour Tom Crean. He was a titan of the heroic age of polar exploration. He was born in Annascaul and the pub he ran after his polar exploration ended in 1916 still serves beer and is a memorial to his incredible life.

Mark with Eileen Percival who runs The South Pole Inn

Mark with Eileen Percival who runs The South Pole Inn

Simone, my fiancée, and I toasted him with a beer named after him and Simone described to me the 18/35 logo on the pint glass. Although I had read almost all the stories of polar exploration before my own Antarctic adventure six years ago I couldn’t remember the significance of those numbers. Surrounding us on the walls of the pub were articles covering Antarctic exploration. Crean was on teams led by both Sir Ernest Shackleton and Captain Robert Falcon Scott. As Michael Smith, author of “An Unsung Hero”, points out Crean spent more time on the ice than either of those two Polar heroes performing pivotal roles on three of the four major British expeditions to Antarctica.

Mark with Tom Crean Beer glass

Initially he served under Scott on the Discovery from 1901 to 1904, then on his fatal Terra Nova expedition to the South Pole from 1910 to 1913 and finally on Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition on Endurance from 1914 to 1916.

It was during Scott’s ill-fated Terra Nova expedition when Tom Crean made the numbers 18 and 35 his own. At only 168 statute miles (270 km) from the Pole, Scott ordered Tom Crean, William Lashly and Lieutenant Edward Evans to return to base. Scott recorded the sorrowful moment in his diary: “Poor old Crean wept …” Scott went on to reach the South Pole only to find Norwegian Roald Amundsen’s flag planted there first. Scott and his team then died on the return journey.

As Crean, Lashly and Evans made it off the polar plateau one month after leaving Scott and the others, Evans began to display the debilitating symptoms of scurvy. In the harness for up to thirteen hours a day, Crean developed snowblindness and hauled the sledge, his eyes bandaged with a tea leave poultice. Risking crevasses, broken bones and certain death the three lashed themselves to the sledge and slid 2,000 ft onto the Beardmore Glacier to save three precious days of marching and food. But then Evans collapsed and with 2 weeks to travel before the safety of Hut Point, Crean and Lashly began hauling Evans on the sledge.

On the 18th February 1912 they arrived at Corner Camp with food running low. They had one or two days’ food left, but still four or five days’ man hauling to do. So, facing death, Crean volunteered to go for help. He had no sleeping bag or tent and was already physically exhausted. Lashly held open the round tent door flap to allow Evans to see Crean depart, Evans remembered: “He strode out nobly and finely – I wondered if I should ever see him again.” Yet, with only two sticks of chocolate and three biscuits (keeping one in his pocket for emergencies) Crean completed the 35 statute miles (56 kms) in a punishing 18 hours. The rescue was successful and Lashly and Evans were both brought to base camp alive. Crean more than earned the Albert Medal, then the highest award for gallantry.

Crean’s own survival, the rescue of his companions and his desire to return to Antarctica again despite this experience intrigues me. Simone and I travelled on to Dingle for the next couple of days and as I sat in the spring sunshine I thought about Crean and those explorers from 100 years ago. I can understand the motivation for Amundsen, Shackleton and Scott – the adventure, the recognition, the money and the influence. My own 43 days in Antarctica racing to the South Pole was fuelled by my desire to compete, to do something bigger than me, bigger than my blindness, maybe to take a small place in polar history. Everyone else, including me, seemed to have an obvious reason to be there. But why did Tom Crean keep going back? He was not an officer or a leader of any of the expeditions; he gained very little public recognition or wealth. So, what drove him to go? What allowed him to survive?

I asked Crean’s biographer, Michael Smith, and he said, “Crean was the type of man who wanted to see what was over the other side of the hill”. So, maybe curiosity and adventure were the drive. It also may have been that the other side of the hill was a great deal better than life in Kerry in the late 19th century; maybe joining the British Navy was just a job? But this was a job that required him to endure torturous conditions, to put his life on the line. The story goes that the men who joined Shackleton did so in response to his newspaper ad for the Endurance expedition: “Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.” I am interested in the type of people who would reply to such an ad, because I think motivation is rarely about the extrinsic factors, it’s rarely about money, recognition or status. They are all so easily granted and easily taken away. People like Crean have a drive that comes from somewhere else, somewhere deep within, something intrinsic.

Norwegian explorer, Fridtjof Nansen, whose name and face were on my skis that took me to the South Pole wrote about this:

“It is within us all, it is our mysterious longing to accomplish something, to fill life with something more than a daily journey from home to the office and from the office, home again. It is our ever present longing to surmount difficulties and dangers, to see that which is hidden, to seek the places lying away from the beaten track; it is the call of the unknown, the longing for the land beyond, the divine power deeply rooted within the soul of man; it is this spirit which drove the first hunters to new places and the incentive for perhaps our greatest deeds – the force of human thought which spreads its wings and flies where freedom knows no bounds.”

Perhaps Nansen articulates what we must try to find as we explore our own frontiers when he says, ‘…it is within us all…’ Whatever the challenge, the motivation to keep going must come from somewhere deep inside us. External motivators are always temporary. The answer to the question of why we do what we do is an internal one, often held privately, but one that if answered honestly will be the one that gets us there. I know that Crean must have had an answer to that question when he walked those 18 hours to cross those 35 miles of ice, uncertain if help would be waiting at the end. If he didn’t, he would never have made it.

Mark and Simone outside the South Pole Inn

Polar Titans & Our Own Intrinsic Motivation

Last Sunday I dropped into The South Pole Inn in Annascaul, Co. Kerry to honour Tom Crean. He was a titan of the heroic age of polar exploration. He was born in Annascaul and the pub he ran after his polar exploration ended in 1916 still serves beer and is a memorial to his incredible life.

Mark with Eileen Percival who runs The South Pole Inn

Mark with Eileen Percival who runs The South Pole Inn

Simone, my fiancé, and I toasted him with a beer named after him and Simone described to me the 18/35 logo on the pint glass. Although I had read almost all the stories of polar exploration before my own Antarctic adventure six years ago I couldn’t remember the significance of those numbers. Surrounding us on the walls of the pub were articles covering Antarctic exploration. Crean was on teams led by both Sir Ernest Shackleton and Captain Robert Falcon Scott. As Michael Smith, author of An Unsung Hero”, points out Crean spent more time on the ice than either of those two Polar heroes performing pivotal roles on three of the four major British expeditions to Antarctica.

Mark holding Tom Crean Beer Glass

Initially he served under Scott on the Discovery from 1901 to 1904, then on his fatal Terra Nova expedition to the South Pole from 1910 to 1913 and finally on Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition on Endurance from 1914 to 1916.

It was during Scott’s ill-fated Terra Nova expedition when Tom Crean made the numbers 18 and 35 his own. At only 168 statute miles (270 km) from the Pole, Scott ordered Tom Crean, William Lashly and Lieutenant Edward Evans to return to base. Scott recorded the sorrowful moment in his diary: “Poor old Crean wept ...” Scott went on to reach the South Pole only to find Norwegian Roald Amundsen’s flag planted there first. Scott and his team then died on the return journey.

As Crean, Lashly and Evans made it off the polar plateau one month after leaving Scott and the others, Evans began to display the debilitating symptoms of scurvy. In the harness for up to thirteen hours a day, Crean developed snowblindness and hauled the sledge, his eyes bandaged with a tea leave poultice. Risking crevasses, broken bones and certain death the three lashed themselves to the sledge and slid 2,000 ft onto the Beardmore Glacier to save three precious days of marching and food. But then Evans collapsed and with 2 weeks to travel before the safety of Hut Point, Crean and Lashly began hauling Evans on the sledge.

On the 18th February 1912 they arrived at Corner Camp with food running low. They had one or two days’ food left, but still four or five days’ man hauling to do. So, facing death, Crean volunteered to go for help. He had no sleeping bag or tent and was already physically exhausted. Lashly held open the round tent door flap to allow Evans to see Crean depart, Evans remembered: “He strode out nobly and finely – I wondered if I should ever see him again.” Yet, with only two sticks of chocolate and three biscuits (keeping one in his pocket for emergencies) Crean completed the 35 statute miles (56 kms) in a punishing 18 hours. The rescue was successful and Lashly and Evans were both brought to base camp alive. Crean more than earned the Albert Medal, then the highest award for gallantry.

Crean’s own survival, the rescue of his companions and his desire to return to Antarctica again despite this experience intrigues me. Simone and I travelled on to Dingle for the next couple of days and as I sat in the spring sunshine I thought about Crean and those explorers from 100 years ago. I can understand the motivation for Amundsen, Shackleton and Scott – the adventure, the recognition, the money and the influence. My own 43 days in Antarctica racing to the South Pole was fuelled by my desire to compete, to do something bigger than me, bigger than my blindness, maybe to take a small place in polar history. Everyone else, including me, seemed to have an obvious reason to be there. But why did Tom Crean keep going back? He was not an officer or a leader of any of the expeditions; he gained very little public recognition or wealth. So, what drove him to go? What allowed him to survive?

I asked Crean’s biographer, Michael Smith, and he said, “Crean was the type of man who wanted to see what was over the other side of the hill”. So, maybe curiosity and adventure were the drive. It also may have been that the other side of the hill was a great deal better than life in Kerry in the late 19th century; maybe joining the British Navy was just a job? But this was a job that required him to endure torturous conditions, to put his life on the line. The story goes that the men who joined Shackleton did so in response to his newspaper ad for the Endurance expedition: “Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.” I am interested in the type of people who would reply to such an ad, because I think motivation is rarely about the extrinsic factors, it’s rarely about money, recognition or status. They are all so easily granted and easily taken away. People like Crean have a drive that comes from somewhere else, somewhere deep within, something intrinsic.

Norwegian explorer, Fridtjof Nansen, whose name and face were on my skis that took me to the South Pole wrote about this:

It is within us all, it is our mysterious longing to accomplish something, to fill life with something more than a daily journey from home to the office and from the office, home again. It is our ever present longing to surmount difficulties and dangers, to see that which is hidden, to seek the places lying away from the beaten track; it is the call of the unknown, the longing for the land beyond, the divine power deeply rooted within the soul of man; it is this spirit which drove the first hunters to new places and the incentive for perhaps our greatest deeds – the force of human thought which spreads its wings and flies where freedom knows no bounds.

Perhaps Nansen articulates what we must try to find as we explore our own frontiers when he says, ‘…it is within us all…’ Whatever the challenge, the motivation to keep going must come from somewhere deep inside us. External motivators are always temporary. The answer to the question of why we do what we do is an internal one, often held privately, but one that if answered honestly will be the one that gets us there. I know that Crean must have had an answer to that question when he walked those 18 hours to cross those 35 miles of ice, uncertain if help would be waiting at the end. If he didn’t, he would never have made it.

Mark and Simone outside The South Pole Inn

On Being a Realist

On the 18th July 2010 I was lying in the acute ward of The National Spinal Injuries Centre in the UK. It was two weeks after my fall, I couldn’t feel or move my legs, I was pumped full of morphine and despite all of this I was feeling lucky to be alive.

As I lay there in the middle of the night I wrote a blog called, ‘Optimist, Realist or Something Else? I was surrounded by guys who were paralysed from the neck, chest or waist down and I was better off than many of them and worse off than some. I could acknowledge that they were paralysed but the question that I could not answer was: “Am I going to be one of these guys?”

And, as I wrote the blog I remembered a book that I had read called ‘Good to Great’ by Jim Collins. He spoke about the Stockdale Principle, a principle based on the experience of long-term prisoners of war and how the optimists were not the ones who survived. Realists did. The reason for this was that the optimists thought that they would be free soon, so they never faced the reality that they may never get out. As a result they were constantly disappointed, demoralised and died in their cells. Whereas the realists dealt in facts, faced the reality of their current circumstances. They were the ones to survive.

This is why I titled the blog Optimist, Realist or Something Else? In those first couple of weeks I questioned if I should be super positive and say – I will make a full recovery – and risk being a Stockdale optimist. I also wondered – should I be a realist and embrace the fact that my legs are not working and therefore are unlikely to recover? But if I did that I feared I would potentially shut off the power of my mind and body to recover in ways that we don’t yet understand.

Looking back I can see how being an optimist was the easy option because it doesn’t demand an examination of the facts. Yet my reluctance to be a realist was misplaced and left me looking for something else. But there is nothing else, being a realist is the only option.

Now, as a realist I have been able to deal in all of the facts. The fact is that I have a catastrophic spinal cord injury. The fact is that I am paralysed and cannot move anything below my waist. The fact is that finding a cure has proven to be impossible up to this point in history. But it is also a fact that human history is made up over and over again of accounts of the impossible made possible through human endeavour.

I don’t believe that there is any need to worry about being a realist. Being a realist allows us to examine the full suite of options and that includes as much despair, as it does acceptance and fantastical hope.

Mark in Wheelchair

I’ve Gone Part-Time Paleo!

There have been phases in my adult life when people squeeze my shoulder and say, “you must be training hard“. The problem is that it usually coincides with times when I have been doing little more than training myself to eat a mix of cheese and ham served up on various white flour products. Chunky? Yes. Fit? No.

 

When you are paralysed you are told to reduce your calorie intake to 1500 calories a day, which is really low. Really hard to maintain. And last year, during our 3-month research study in Los Angeles, I could have gone either of two ways. The omnipresence of pizzas, burgers and Mexican food was such that I feared the shoulder squeeze treatment at the end of the trip.

 

But we also had access to really healthy, tasty food where we were living. In Culver City I ate almost daily in Tender Greens where I had grilled tuna with a salad of Kale, parmesan, roasted garlic vinaigrette and garlic herb crostini.  When we weren’t there or at home, we ate across the road at LYFE Kitchen where every dish was less than 600 calories. My personal favorite was chicken, mushroom and spinach penne made with whole-grain pasta, green onions, lemon zest, parmesan and cashew cream sauce. This was only 570 calories and the portion size wasn’t really compromised due to the ingredient choices. Check out the cashew nut cream rather than dairy cream!

Tender Greens LA

And, when it was easy to get fast, healthy and tasty food, I chose it. By the end of the trip I had lost just over a stone in body weight (8 kgs).

 

But back in Ireland between May and December I went back to my old routine. Too many paninis and pizza. Too many bad choices and a worrying number of “you must be training hard” comments.

 

But on the 22nd of December, as our documentary film Unbreakable screened I got an email from James Statham. James runs a company called Paleo Meal Deliveries and he offered to work with me. His company delivers chef prepped meals to people each week. The microwavable meals are homemade, nutritionally dense and are low carb, gluten and dairy free. He offered to sponsor me, delivering a 3-day meal plan including breakfast, lunch and dinner each week to my door. In return he asked for nothing. After a month I have noticed that nobody has squeezed my shoulder and accused me of training. But they have commented that I’ve lost weight.

 

I think it is all down to access to good food. In the main I am eating well and the right amounts now that leaves me calorie room on a weekly basis to eat out the odd time or to have the odd treat. If I feel hungry in between, Simone has packed the freezer with LYFE Kitchen smoothie recipe bags that we can blend in our new Nutri-Bullet. It’s raw kale, fresh ginger, banana, cucumber, apple juice and lemon juice. So, we’ll see if my kale smoothies and 9 Paleo Meals out of 21 eating options will keep me motivated to make good choices for the rest of the month.

Lyfe Kitchen Smoothie

I’ve Gone Part-Time Paleo!

There have been phases in my adult life when people squeeze my shoulder and say, “you must be training hard”. The problem is that it usually coincides with times when I have been doing little more than training myself to eat a mix of cheese and ham served up on various white flour products. Chunky? Yes. Fit? No.

When you are paralysed you are told to reduce your calorie intake to 1500 calories a day, which is really low. Really hard to maintain. And last year, during our 3-month research study in Los Angeles, I could have gone either of two ways. The omnipresence of pizzas, burgers and Mexican food was such that I feared the shoulder squeeze treatment at the end of the trip.

But we also had access to really healthy, tasty food where we were living. In Culver City I ate almost daily in Tender Greens where I had grilled tuna with a salad of Kale, parmesan, roasted garlic vinaigrette and garlic herb crostini. When we weren’t there or at home, we ate across the road at LYFE Kitchen where every dish was less than 600 calories. My personal favorite was chicken, mushroom and spinach penne made with whole-grain pasta, green onions, lemon zest, parmesan and cashew cream sauce. This was only 570 calories and the portion size wasn’t really compromised due to the ingredient choices. Check out the cashew nut cream rather than dairy cream!

Tender Greens LA

And, when it was easy to get fast, healthy and tasty food, I chose it. By the end of the trip I had lost just over a stone in body weight (8 kgs).

But back in Ireland between May and December I went back to my old routine. Too many paninis and pizza. Too many bad choices and a worrying number of “you must be training hard” comments.

But on the 22nd of December, as our documentary film Unbreakable screened I got an email from James Statham. James runs a company called Paleo Meal Deliveries and he offered to work with me. His company delivers chef prepped meals to people each week. The microwavable meals are homemade, nutritionally dense and are low carb, gluten and dairy free. He offered to sponsor me, delivering a 3-day meal plan including breakfast, lunch and dinner each week to my door. In return he asked for nothing. After a month I have noticed that nobody has squeezed my shoulder and accused me of training. But they have commented that I’ve lost weight.

I think it is all down to access to good food. In the main I am eating well and the right amounts now that leaves me calorie room on a weekly basis to eat out the odd time or to have the odd treat. If I feel hungry in between, Simone has packed the freezer with LYFE Kitchen smoothie recipe bags that we can blend in our new Nutri-Bullet. It’s raw kale, fresh ginger, banana, cucumber, apple juice and lemon juice. So, we’ll see if my kale smoothies and 9 Paleo Meals out of 21 eating options will keep me motivated to make good choices for the rest of the month.

Lyfe Kitchen Smoothie

Something Comes From Something

MY FRIEND BARRY CORSCADEN is an enigma; relentlessly funny and deeply insightful. He says he’s going to write a book called “Something Comes from Something”. After some years, though, he has found that all he needs is the title. It says all he needs to say.

Last year many of the seemingly small ‘somethings’, that I and others around me created, aligned and became something bigger. So Barry has had many occasions this year to shout in triumph at me “you see, something comes from something!” So, I am going to try to draw the map of how we got here. How 2014 was the year that some of our projects began to crystalise.

Four and a half years ago a fall left me paralysed from the waist down. Stuck in hospital, physical pain and rehab for the first 18 months, with the benefit of hindsight now looks like the planning phase. I was figuring out if I would get out of the hospital bed and if I did what I would do with the rest of my life, Simone, my fiancée was researching who in the world was creating a cure for spinal cord injury and how we could join them. My family and friends were starting to think about how they could ensure I returned to an independent life. And because apparently ‘something comes from something’, all of this meant that we spent the following few years working hard on many small, disparate projects.

Mark, Stoke Mandeville Hospital 2010

Mark, Stoke Mandeville Hospital 2010

It was never clear if or when the ‘somethings’ on which we were working would pay off, or how exactly they were related to each other, but we pressed on. And then, 2014 began with a bang.

Science

In early February Trinity College Dublin, had an exhibition called Fail Better. It was a celebration of trying and not succeeding, leading to better tries, better results – and sometimes better failures. The Science Gallery asked me to exhibit and I set about convincing The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation that featuring Christopher Reeve’s power wheelchair, “Superman’s Wheelchair”, would be an important exhibit.

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“Fail Better” Exhibition, Science Gallery Dublin 2014

I was able to do this because I had come to know the Reeve staff and board over the past year through my and Simone’s roles as board members. We had been asked to join the board because when we were in Boston for a week in 2013 a friend had arranged for the Boston Globe to interview me about my small projects aiming for a paralysis cure, and when I met someone who knew someone in The Reeve Foundation she was able to send them that article which told my story – a story which they recognised. Lots of ‘somethings’ which meant they trusted us to fly Chris’s chair in from the Reeve Foundation offices in New Jersey to Dublin.

The impact of the exhibit was really interesting to us. Not only from the comments of the people who came to see it, but the fact that 10 years after Chris’s death, his drive and energy live on in such symbols as his chair. It also had a huge impact on me. I had to write the piece explaining the exhibit and, in the process of doing so, I had to tell myself my story. To remind myself why I was doing what I was doing and to take stock. I suggested that Christopher Reeve’s empty chair represents both the failure to cure paralysis and the compulsion to pursue progress. That I may no longer be the adventure athlete I was before I broke my back, but that I was now an explorer, inspired by the vision of another explorer – Christopher Reeve – travelling in his tracks.

Move to Los Angeles

And, then we packed up and moved ourselves to California for three months. The year before we had started to create our first major scientific collaboration with US-based scientists and technologists. My aim had evolved to be a catalyst for collaboration between the diverse siloes looking at a paralysis cure. So, Simone, my colleague Piers White from Mark Pollock Trust (www.markpollocktrust.org), my robotic exoskeleton and I took part in a study in UCLA. The scientists’ initial aim was to experiment with robotic walking while adding innovative transcutaneous electrical stimulation of the spinal cord and a drug to see what, if anything, might happen. And, surprise, surprise something came from this first something of its kind. Something really exciting.

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Los Angeles 2014

In short, when the scientists stimulated my damaged spinal cord at three sites simultaneously I was able to initiate and sustain oscillating step-like movements of my legs when they were placed in a gravity neutral position in slings off the end of a physiotherapist bench. Stimulation also significantly enhanced the level of assistance that my damaged body could generate while the exoskeleton was carrying me.

Fundraising

This year our Life Style Sports Run in the Dark events (www.runinthedark.org) gathered 16,000 people in 50 cities around the world. As I sat at the start line in Dublin I thought about the night of the first run in 2011. It was only 16 months after my fall and I was just out of hospital. It was wet, cold and desperately emotional as I sat in my new wheelchair with Simone at the side gates of Trinity College Dublin cheering on the 2,000 runners who were doing laps of my old university.

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Mark at the inaugural Run In The Dark Dublin, 2011

That night we met so many people, old and new friends, but meeting one man in particular stuck in my mind. I don’t know his name or where he is from but he stopped mid-lap to tell us that he was running because his daughter of only four years of age had just been fitted for her first wheelchair. He said that during a terrible time for him and his wife, they had been following my blog and that my being open about how I was suffering but looking for hope had “kept them going”.

I wish I could thank him in return. His words made us think we might be doing something right, motivated us to what has become a mission to find and connect people worldwide to fast track a cure for paralysis. That man’s something he gave us has been so fruitful. Since that night in 2011 over 30,000 people in total have been involved in Run in the Dark and the money they raised allowed us to spend those three months in Los Angeles, allowed those scientists to have a paralysed body and its robotic exoskeleton for three months. Time most test subjects simply cannot give on an ongoing basis. It will allow them to publish papers, raise more money and do further experiments all aiming at commercialising these interventions, these therapies and getting them onto shelves in doctor’s offices and into other people paralysed like me.

Awareness

As soon as we arrived and settled in Los Angeles we were off again. This time to Washington on foot of an anonymous invite to the White House for St. Patrick’s Day. When I got the email invitation to The White House I had to check it wasn’t spam. I didn’t believe it was real. But it was. I didn’t find out until late in the evening of March 17, 2014 how the invite came about. The something, it seemed, was a piece I had done for the American embassy a little while ago to celebrate John F Kennedy’s visit to Ireland. Someone remembered and when he heard I was in the US, asked that I be invited.

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Taoiseach Enda Kenny spoke of the Irish “… capacity to endure and to adapt, to survive and to thrive; to know fear, to know loss, and yet to conscript new generations to courage and vision …” then saying: “Mark Pollock, whom I see here in front of me, without sight, without the capability of walking, yet he has done extraordinary things in the sense of his vision and his courage of what we can do with our shared humanity.” All of this meant that after the speeches, Simone and I met President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, the Taoiseach and Fionnuala Kenny, all of which meant we could put the topic of spinal cord injuries on this very global agenda.

And, another link in our US connections began About 18 months ago when Paddy Cosgrave gave me the opportunity to speak at Founders, part of the Web summit in Dublin. I invited the audience to come and see me walk in my robot in Trinity. One of those people was David Rowan the editor of Wired magazine in the UK. He asked me then to speak at Wired in London which I did and when we moved to LA he introduced me to the people who produce TEDxHollywood, all of these somethings meant that this year I was able to talk about the UCLA study in front of a truly global audience. (Watch Mark’s TEDx talk at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7rMYfiRNT7g ).

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TEDx was in late June and my talk was titled “Expecting Problems As We Explore Possibilities”. It was an incredible opportunity to speak on this platform and the conversations that followed fed into our other major project that we brought to fruition in 2014 – our documentary film “Unbreakable – The Mark Pollock Story”.

Back in 2010, two months after my fall, RTE screened a documentary about my adventure race to The South Pole. Ironically the director and my friend, Ross Whitaker and I had called it: “Blind Man Walking” and the night it aired in Ireland I was decidedly not walking. I was in the acute ward of Stoke Mandeville Hospital in England navigating the shock of paralysis and multiple debilitating infections. My family and friends and I were all in shock and I suppose initially I thought I was going to make some measure of recovery. So, when Ross came to visit we agreed he would bring his camera and keep on filming with the proviso that if we ever got to the point that we didn’t want to finish the documentary, if I didn’t recover, then we would scrap the footage.

And I didn’t recover, but that no longer seemed to be the point. The point is that we are heading in that direction and having some footage of the early very painful days in hospital as well as of the work we did in Los Angeles this year all became a big something – our film. Our documentary opened at the Light House Cinema in Dublin in October 2014 for an extended run, followed by an at times sell-out national tour. Award-winning director, Ross Whitaker and the team created a powerful film that has enabled us to meet and talk with people all around Ireland.

Unbreakable audience standing ovation

The Future

So I wonder now, what all these somethings, facilitated by so many fantastic people, will turn into next year. We are working on the international release of Unbreakable for 2015 which is exciting as a project but we hope useful too as we try to get paralysis onto the global agenda. We are also in the process of extending our Los Angeles study to explore what effect long term use of stimulation, robotics and pharmacology will have. So, I hope to be back walking in my Ekso Bionics robot while stimulated so we can learn more about whether this can be a viable therapy for other paralysed people.

The injuries that I suffered in 2010 have left me paralysed. But after navigating a path through intensive care and the devastating shock of paralysis, I and a growing we, started by doing something. That something has gathered pace and last year felt like we reached the end of the start up phase. It feels like we’re getting ready for making a bigger impact. Now, we are focused on extending this groundbreaking research and helping translate that research into real therapies in the community as soon as possible. So, as we reflect on last year and plan for 2015, I want to thank all the people who have supported me to try somethings that I hope will make a significant impact on the global problem of paralysis. There is much more to do but we are making progress – thank you.



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