The electrode is part of a system that could help people with paralysis bypass their injuries and reanimate their limbs.
I've always been fascinated with the promise of computers. Because of that, I make it a point to get the latest and greatest technology. Even as a kid, I was the one in the family who would set up our new electronics and computers. It's this lifelong passion that helped lead me to becoming a pioneer in bionic technology. Right now, I'm the only person on the planet who has a special computer chip implanted in my brain that can read my thoughts and send those signals through a port in my skull out to a computer, which can then send that information back to my body and make my body do stuff.
For the past three years, I've been using this groundbreaking technology, called NeuroLife, to bypass a spinal injury that left me with quadriplegia. Although I'm paralyzed from the chest down, when I'm hooked up to the computer, and the computer is connected to a special sleeve wrapped around my forearm, I can use my hands to pick up and put things down. The technology reanimates my arm and allows me to control it with my mind, similar to the the way I moved before I had my accident.
The accident happened in 2010, during my freshman year at Ohio University in Athens. A few days after my final exams, I headed out to the Outer Banks, North Carolina, for a brief vacation with my girlfriend at the time and some friends. I remember sitting behind the wheel on the nine-hour drive, thinking about all the fun we were going to have and relishing in the fact that we were going to spend a few days just kicking back and letting our hair down. When we finally arrived, we headed straight for the ocean to enjoy the waves.
I was so excited to be there that I was the first person to get into the water, even though it was pretty cold. I dove headfirst into a wave like I had done a million times before. But this time, the waves pushed me down, and the water below wasn't very deep. I hit my head on a sandbar. Immediately, I knew something was wrong because I couldn't get up out of the water. Thankfully, I wasn't by myself. My friends pulled me onto the shore.
At first, I was really optimistic. I thought that I'd be back doing whatever I wanted in about six weeks. I didn't really get a clear diagnosis until the morning after the accident. But when I did, it was pretty bleak. I was a quadriplegic: They said I could move my arms around a little bit, but I wouldn't be able to do much else. They said I would need help with everything, from getting dressed and eating to drinking or turning on the lights. "This is what it's going to be like for the rest of your life," they told me. That really hit home. But I took it as a challenge. I wanted to prove them wrong. I wanted to get as strong as I could and make my life the best that it could be in spite of my injury.
First, I had to relearn every aspect of my life to adapt to my paralysis. I did outpatient therapy with Ohio State University in Columbus because the campus was only 20 minutes from my parent's house. With support from the doctors there, I was able to start doing more for myself than initially expected. After a lot of work, I could eat on my own, I could control a wheelchair, and I could even drive a car.
But I realized that eventually the therapy that was helping me so much would have to end, due to my insurance. So I had to look for other options. I started asking my doctors, "What are some other ways for me to get therapy and continue getting better?" That led me to doing research studies that would enable me to continue therapy without having to rely on support from my insurance. These studies also exposed me to some of the most advanced technological advances in the world today.Ohio State University doctors in the midst of a deep-brain implant surgery that is similar to the one Ian went through. Photo by Andrew Cagle