Belfast Telegraph

Heroic Mark Pollock a trailblazer in search for paralysis cure

By Claire Williamson

He has consistently fought against the odds.

And now the inspirational Mark Pollock is at the centre of an exciting pioneering study in the hope of enabling victims of paralysis to walk again.

The 39-year-old from Holywood, Co Down, lost his sight at the age of 22 and, tragically, just three weeks before his wedding in July 2010 an accident left him paralysed from the waist down.

But in the face of adversity he dedicated his time to searching for a cure for paralysis through the Mark Pollock Trust.

Today, on the fifth anniversary of his accident, Mark told the Belfast Telegraph of the "privilege" he feels at being the only person in the world using a combination of therapies with the aim of fast-tracking a cure to paralysis - and that it helps him make sense of what happened.

The therapy combines a drug, an electrical stimulation device and the use of robotic legs.

Last year a film about Mark's life called Unbreakable saw him meet with scientists in America, and it has taken almost 14 months to get them to Ireland.

He described this as the "start of the next chapter" as they have trained scientists here and are now ready to start intensive work.

He said: "It's exciting for me personally to be the only person who has access to the therapies.

"But it equally highlights the frustration that we have at the pace of the science because it would be much more exciting if every person paralysed in this country and around the world was involved in a therapy that was getting results and it wasn't just me. That is our ambition to move to that point.

"Today is the fifth anniversary of my accident and perhaps this is a way of me making sense of what has happened.

"But it is not an end in itself."

While using the robotic legs Mark has taken around 500,000 steps, but he says his focus has now shifted to a drive to take a step voluntarily.

He said: "One voluntary step where I am having some kind of input into my muscle contractions would be more exciting to me now."

And although it can be gruelling, Mark welcomes that feeling as he knows it means his body is being worked.

He said: "It's significantly more tiring when I'm using all of the interventions because it's having an effect on the body and my heart rate is increasing and my muscles are doing something." But despite being the sole person in the world trialling this study Mark doesn't feel under too much pressure.

"There must be something about me that enjoys that side of it," he said.

"We want to fast-track a cure for paralysis and up to this point in history there has been a 100% failure rate to achieve that.

"In a sense there is a pressure to achieve it but along the way we are moving the field forward.

"It is relentless, because every day I get up it's not fixed and every day we are trying to move it forward.

"But it's like everything in life everyone is trying to move forward.

"We have to remember and celebrate the wins along the way."


After losing his sight at 22, Mark Pollock was the first blind person to race to the South Pole. Five years ago today an accident left him paralysed from the waist down - just three weeks before his wedding. He was a Commonwealth Games medal winner and competed in ultra endurance races. Last year a film about Mark's life called Unbreakable told the story of his rehabilitation and his search for ground-breaking cures in the worlds of robotics and science.

Further reading:

Mark Pollock: 'If I keep on learning, that will bring many more adventures' 

There'll be tears, admits Mark Pollock, as film of his formidable spirit in face of adversity premiered  

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