The inspirational Mark Pollock speaks to Irene Feighan and reveals how he aims to make Ireland the world’s leading research centre for robotics and spinal stimulation.
Mark Pollock believes in taking action, no matter what. At the height of his university rowing career, he lost his sight aged 22.
Determined to find an identity beyond his blindness, he took up adventure racing and successfully completed the South Pole Race in 2009.
But an accident the following year left him paralysed.
Once again he fought back, this time focusing on finding a treatment for paralysis through the use of robotic legs and electrical stimulation.
Living in Ranelagh with his fiancée Simone George, he aims to make Ireland the world’s leading research centre for robotics and spinal stimulation.
“Through Mark Pollock Trust, we are finding and connecting people worldwide to fast-track a cure for paralysis,” he says.
“We fund a scientist in Trinity and regularly bring US, Russian and Indian scientists to Ireland to share knowledge. Apart from my ongoing research, we already have 22 paralysed people who are part of a study to assess their spinal cord excitability and compare that with uninjured people.
"And, we hope that later this year we will start to replicate what I’ve been doing in the US and Ireland with many other people in a pre-clinical trial.”
* Mark will give the opening address at a major all-Ireland conference marking International Rare Disease Day on February 28 in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham/IMMA.
To register for free, see www.mrcg.ie/www.mrcg.ie
What shape are you in?
I could always do better. After the accident in 2010, I got into rehab and walked with my robotic legs. I was training but my heart rate would never go up.
Now, with the addition of electrical stimulation of the spine, I can contract my muscles and my heart rate increases to almost normal training zones.
And, last summer, I got a tandem handbike allowing me to get more physically active.
What are your healthiest eating habits?
I follow the Banting approach to eating — high fat, low carbs. Because I’m not using up as many calories in the wheelchair, there is a big danger I’ll put a lot of weight on.
I’m getting great results with this approach to eating. I’ve lost weight and also my energy has stabilised.
What are your guiltiest pleasures?
Cadbury’s Creme Eggs. I have to buy them in ones because if I buy the multi-pack deal I’ll eat the whole box.
What would keep you awake at night?
My paralysed legs pinning me to the bed! When I go to sleep I can’t move until my bones get so sore that I have to wake up and physically lift my legs from one side to the other and turn over.
How do you relax?
I go down and watch the rugby matches with my mates in McSorley’s in Ranelagh — I’ve got a little FM radio or I listen on my iPhone.
Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
The explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton; Viktor Frankl who wrote Man’s Search for Meaning; Admiral James Stockdale, a prisoner of war in Vietnam who wrote about stoic philosophy; Sharon Horgan, to balance the seriousness of the first three, and maybe a couple of the guys from The Inbetweeners.
Hmmm, my fiancée too!
What’s your favourite smell?
The kind of smell that you get by the sea. I grew up by the water in Holywood, Northern Ireland.
When is the last time you cried?
Three weeks ago. I had a kidney infection — I haven’t had one for about 18 months.
Simone was away and I was awake on and off for four days. I was hugging my pillow — pathetic!
What traits do you least like in others?
I don’t like aggression and conflict. I don’t mind a good debate and a difference of opinion. But I don’t like the negativity that is the foundation of aggression and conflict.
What traits do you least like about yourself?
There is so much of my life when I have to wait for someone to help me. The blindness and paralysis has stripped my independence from me. I really dislike how much I have to plan ahead.
Do you pray?
No, I’m very much in the Stockdale and Frankl school of thought. Their experiences teach us that we are in control of how we respond to our circumstances. Praying isn’t going to cure paralysis but taking action just might.
What would cheer up your day?
Possibly a Creme Egg or a sponsor for Run in the Dark. Also, I love it when I do an unexpected deal.
Things like being on a conference call with LA, San Francisco and Dublin to agree on a clinical trial protocol that everyone goes for.
Or a last-minute booking to speak to a business that helps with the cash flow.
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