September 2018 'The impossible made possible'

Mark Pollock's TED talk on hope versus acceptance

Photo credit: TED / Ryan Lash

Mark Pollock's TED talk is finally available, a joint effort with human rights lawyer Simone George, recorded at the Vancouver event in April. The couple tell their powerful and personal story of Mark's paralysis and their ongoing battle to find a cure.

As a renowned thought leader in resilience, innovation and collaboration, Mark had already given acclaimed talks at conferences including the World Economic Forum and Wired, but the TED talk resulted after an introduction to TED curator Chris Andersen by UBS in Switzerland:

“A few weeks later he invited us to speak about our shared resilience at TED2018. TED can make the quest to cure paralysis truly global and so it was an amazing opportunity to share a stage with SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell; Founder and CEO of Netflix, Reed Hastings; CEO of Sinovation, Kai Fu Lee; and all of the other speakers.”

In their TED talk, Mark and Simone speak about the tension between acceptance and hope, something they had to resolve after Mark’s spinal cord injury:

"Simone and I were presented with the expert view that hoping for a cure had proven to be psychologically damaging. It was like the formal medical system was cancelling hope in favour of acceptance alone. But cancelling hope ran contrary to everything that we believed in. Yes, up to this point in history it had proven impossible to find a cure for paralysis, but history is filled with accounts of the impossible made possible by human endeavour… So we started asking, 'Why can't that same human endeavour cure paralysis in our lifetime?'"

His fiancée Simone used research skills gained during her law and activism career for that endeavor - to find and connect people around the world to fast-track a cure for paralysis. She described the moment Mark was first able to take a step thanks to technology:

"The moment when we combined the electrical stimulation of Mark's spinal cord as he walked in his robotic exo-skeleton was like that moment when Iron Man plugs the mini arc reactor into his chest and he and his suit become something else altogether."

"For the first time since I was paralysed I could feel my legs underneath me," Mark continued.

"It wasn't a normal feeling, but with the stimulator turned on, upright in my Exo, my legs felt substantial – I could feel the meat of my muscles on the bones of my legs. And as I walked, because of the stimulation, I was able to voluntarily move my paralyzed legs. And as I did more, the robot intelligently did less… My muscles, which had almost entirely disappeared, started to come back. And during some standard testing, flat on my back, 12 weeks, six months and three whole years after I fell out that window and became paralyzed, the scientists turned the stimulator on and I pulled my knee to my chest."

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