Standing on my own two feet…

Nature offers us so many metaphors that reflect the processes and changes of our own life. Spring is here. Buds burst into life and paint a maze of colour. Early morning air is filled with birdsong and lambs play in the fields. It is the season of new life, re-birth and the promise of opportunities that light and warmth bring. For me, Spring especially presents opportunity this year: a whole new possibility that has been absent from my landscape for many years.

Have you ever had an experience where something is emerging that is so far removed from your ‘normal’ that you don’t know quite how to share it with anyone? We hardly dare speak about it as it feels so fragile, perhaps with roots that run deep into our being. We sense the excitement and curiosity, as well as the fear and vulnerability. 

I am navigating this process at the moment. Last year, a new paradigm emerged for me as I entered into exploring healthspan and how to optimise it. An opening came to speak with a healthspan and longevity specialist, Dr Jeffrey Gladden MD FACC (Gladden Longevity), who suggested that by using  a multi-disciplinary scientific approach it might be possible to aim for recovery of my long-injured spinal cord. I felt an initial loud “Yes!” However, stepping forward into this possibility has been more challenging than I expected. You may have noticed a crowdfunder that has one contribution of $25 (thank you Ryan!), and two podcasts about the project thanks to Gladden Longevity & Inspire Campfire (Scott Wurtzbacher, who introduced us). The project has not yet taken flight, perhaps not surprising given that when we are ‘wobbling’ with our external goals, the path does not open easily. 

I rarely accept the ‘status quo’, and I fundamentally believe that we are responsible for our own reality, creating it with the small thoughts and actions we allow in each moment. I created the ‘Pole of Possibility’ in Antarctica and I live a life focused on possibility. My default is to embrace life without cynicism, skepticism or fear. Part of me is observing my role in this project not yet ‘taking flight’.

How do we move stuckness and open new ways forward? How do we decide which path to take and whether it is the right one for us?  In the past I have used all kinds of processes. I use my thinking brain to consider ‘reasons for’ and ‘reasons not to’, I might break down my fears and worries into tiny parts and find small solutions that gradually build my sense of safety and confidence to step forward. I connect to my deeper core of knowing by spending time in nature, meditation and other ways of listening within. I visualise and practice what I call ‘creating future in the present’. The combination of our smart thinking mind with our inner stillness help us dance with uncertainty and find ways through these ‘big’ sorts of life decisions. 

I share here some of my process in respect to this healthspan and spinal cord injury (SCI) repair project.  
On the ‘resistance’ side, I find myself asking questions like “Is it really possible to repair a body that has been paralysed for thirty-one years?” (Perhaps a limiting belief);  “Who am I to try?” (Maybe I am doubting my self-worth); “Does it matter to me given I am already fortunate to have such a rich, full, purposeful life?” (Perhaps avoidance or an excuse); “Whilst paralysis isn’t ‘ideal’, we all have incredible capacity to adapt and I have learned to love my life as it is, why risk change?” (Perhaps I have a fear of change); “What are the risks and could it make things worse?” (Sounds like a reasonable question!). 

On the ‘receptive’ side, I find myself asking questions of positive possibility like “Health is paramount and how could optimising it enable more good energy and contribution to the world?”; “Paralysis and its complications are rising in frequency – one person is paralysed in the UK every two minutes, consuming a lot of energy and other resources for individuals, families and health systems. Could this project give useful insights to help wellbeing of all with SCI?” ; “There are fifteen million paralysed humans in the world who tend to die on average around twenty percent younger than our able-bodied friends; what if we could all live with an enhanced healthspan?”. 

I have been paralysed now since 1993, unable to move or twitch a muscle from the chest level down, nor feel touch or pain below this level (classed as a ‘complete’ spinal cord injury). My body has developed its own curious ways of communicating with me, signals which I don’t always interpret soon enough or translate into appropriate action. For this reason, I have had some near misses, as many paralysed people do. If we could develop better means to avoid or detect some of these peripheral health issues like bladder, kidney, lung or skin infections, the risk of complication or mortality would be reduced. 

In recent years and with increasing regularity, I hear of a new breakthrough and how someone with paralysis has walked. From ‘tech’ aids like exoskeletons, spinal cord simulation and electrical implants to more fundamental changes via stem-cell work, there are ‘surprise’ results around the world.  Those who gain recovery attribute it to various causes: intense neuro-physio, stem cells, and neuroplastic effects of the brain and wider nervous system. When you love your life and you have been marinated in a paradigm of ‘no cure’, it is easy to dismiss these stories as someone getting lucky, or an injury being incomplete (meaning the spinal cord is not entirely severed).

Any idea of a long healthspan and restoring function with an injured spinal cord would have fallen on deaf ears even just a decade ago. The paradigm then was that paralysis was for life and full of complicated health challenges.

Medical technology has advanced and many scientists are optimistic about future treatments that can heal a damaged spinal cord. Whilst effectiveness has been limited, scientists continue to work on ideas to help spinal nerve tissue grow back and heal. There were breakthroughs in 2023 using both stem cells that signal nerve cell repair, and in a separate study, using an artificial matrix to help cells grow. Advances in research and development of regenerative medicine methods and stem-cell technology research have brought us to an interesting place where spinal cord injury no longer seems ‘incurable’. Sometimes the biggest scientific discoveries are made when ideas from different fields collide. I am fortunate to arrive in this interesting though challenging place, one which rocks my comfort zone and the ‘old’ paradigm that spinal cord injury is ‘incurable’, or that the health challenges it brings are something we have no agency to improve.  

The Project

Dr Gladden has insight and experience with regenerative medicine and has offered to apply regeneration medicine methods to optimise my body environment for healing. The work with Dr Gladden will assess the ‘health’ of my paralysed body using various diagnostic and laboratory tests to assess each system of my body. The results combined with his experience and knowledge of treatments to bring the body to optimal health, will prepare me for the possibility of cutting-edge SCI stem-cell treatment with leading researchers and clinicians.

The aim of the project is to take a multi-disciplinary approach,merging regenerative medicine methods with regenerative stem-cell research, neuro-physiotherapy, neuroplasticity and other modalities in approaching two specific questions:

  • How can the body environment best be optimised in people with SCI to optimise healthspan and reduce minimise risk of life-threatening secondary conditions / early mortality?
  • Has medical science advanced to the point that with a multi-disciplinary approach, joining together different fields of medicine and research, that spinal cord communication can be recovered even after decades of paralysis? 

My life as a paraplegic has been so rich in experiences, adventures, unique perspectives and human connections that I have grown to love it. When you love your life, it is easy not to embrace change; but change is the only thing certain in this life. It always guarantees learning and holds intriguing possibility. 

This project has been slow to ‘take flight’ in part due to my discomfort with asking for support for something that feels so ‘wild’ to my own thinking. It eases my discomfort that it an contribute knowledge and insight to a growing global health issue, not only for SCI but for all of us interestsed in optimising our health. I sincerely thank anyone who resonates with it and thank you for either contributing or sharing.

More details on the project and the revised, staged approach I plan to take are within the fundraiser link here I would like to invite you to be part of this journey with me, and to offer something back. If you are able donate $25 or more, please email me via my website and let me know what you would most appreciate from the ‘menu’ of things I am offering in return for donations, listed within the fundraiser.