'It’s an incredible breakthrough' - Mark Pollock stands on his own for first time since paralysis

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Mark Pollock wears the Ekso Bionics robotic exoskeleton while Simone George sits in his wheelchair last November. Picture: Peter Macdiarmid

Mark Pollock has stood on his own for the first time since a fall which left him paralysed in 2010.

The 40-year-old explorer lost his sight aged 22, but went on to become the first blind person to reach the South Pole in 2009.

However, one year after this adventure, he fell from a second-storey window, damaging his spinal cord, and has been confined to a wheelchair ever since.

The adventurer is working on a cure for paralysis and last November, after years of research between Irish, US, and Russian scientists he stood independently for the first time since his accident, thanks to electrodes attached to his back via patches.

This spinal stimulation research in which he is participating is in its infancy.

“It’s an incredible breakthrough. There were going to be two outcomes: Either nothing was going to happen or I was going to stand independently. I was able to stand independently,” Mr Pollock told the Irish Examiner.

'It’s an incredible breakthrough' - Mark Pollock stands on his own for first time since paralysis

He explained what it felt like, standing on his own for the first time in six years, thanks to the stimulation of his spinal cord by the electrodes.

“I was standing holding onto a bar in front of me, and Simon, my South Pole partner, he pushed my knees back, and I locked my stomach muscles.

“Without the stimulation I feel like one of those dolls with no ability to hold myself up, but with the stimulation on there’s a meatiness there.

“What happened was, Simon was able to take his hands away from my knees and I was able to stand.

“The status quo for the last three or four years was I’d fall on the ground, so none of us believed it could happen, but it did.”

The groundbreaking research is a collaboration between researchers in Trinity College Dublin, the University of California Los Angeles, and Russia’s Pavlov Institute.

Mr Pollock said he did not allow himself to get “too high” following the breakthrough because there is still work to be done to find a permanent cure for paralysis.

“I can’t let myself get too high, I try and stay somewhere in the middle,” he said.

Mr Pollock’s next step is to bring this breakthrough from the laboratory and into someone’s home. “To drive this research on we are looking for commercial partners for the Run in the Dark and for the Mark Pollock Trust,” he said.


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