Monthly Archives: September 2014

SCI Superstar: Jan Scheuermann

jan

A pioneer in the field of mind-controlled prosthetics, Jan Scheuermann, 55, is a quadriplegic on a mission to make the world a better place. She volunteered to be part of a groundbreaking research project to get people with paralysis to move prosthetic limbs using their minds, and she’s been making international news in the process.

Jan’s journey without question is one for the history books, and even though the research she’s taking part in is poised to help millions, it likely will never be able to directly improve her own life. And she’s totally ok with that.

Jan’s main hope is that the research leads to big time discoveries to truly help people with spinal cord injuries be more independent. Read on for her truly selfless and fascinating story.

Why she’s fearless

In the 1990s long before Jan was disabled, Jan was a 30 something wife and mother to two daughters living in California. She was also running a murder mystery production company called “Deadly Affairs.” Her life was more than full.

But in 1996, she began to experience mysterious leg weakness that made her feel like her legs were dragging. She knew it was more serious than just tired muscles. Jan was eventually diagnosed with spinocerebellar degeneration, an autoimmune disorder.

Two years later, she moved back home to Pittsburgh and within those two years Jan had lost all leg movement. In four years time, she lost all movement from the neck down. This was without a doubt one of the most significant changes in Jan’s life.

Transitioning to such a limited life can be difficult, which is why Jan was excited to take part in the “Hector Project;” a research project taking place at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. After hearing about it online, she called and before she knew it she was part of the program.

In early 2012, she first had two implants inserted into the top of her head, which she called “Lewis and Clark.” These contained 100 electrodes and were put in the cortex of the brain controlling movement. These electrodes were amazingly able to read her brain signals and send them to the prosthetic arm which on a whim she randomly named “Hector” (and turns out to mean “to grasp”).

In the beginning, Jan was able to move the arm up and down right away quite easily, and within a few months she was able to move the wrist and grasp the hand. Her ultimate goal – to feed herself chocolate, which she was able to do a year into the research.

These findings from the University of Pittsburgh are the first of its kind, and it’s been all over the news, from the Daily Mail to 60 Minutes. They were also published in the Journal of Neural Engineering in late 2014.

What’s next?

In October 2014, Jan’s journey with “Hector the Robotic Arm” came to a close when she had the electrodes “Lewis and Clark” removed from her brain. A bittersweet end, Jan understands the research had reached its arc, but she still has plans to further its purpose.

Speaking to elementary schools and beyond both in person and via Skype, Jan plans to talk about her experiences with Hector for years to come. She knows the more she’s out there speaking on this important technology, the faster it can move from research the clinical applications, which we can all agree is the ultimate goal.

Let’s hope we see more of this amazing tech applied in our lifetimes. One can hope!

Like “Hector the Robotic Arm” on Facebook

More on the research from UPMC

Could you be a lab rat like Jan?

Watch the videos!

One Giant Bite: Woman with Quadriplegia Feeds Herself Chocolate Using Mind-Controlled Robot Arm

Jan Scheuermann Discusses the Importance of Research

60 Minutes: An arm called “Hector”

SCI Superstar: Skydiver Jarrett Martin

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In Jarrett Martin’s world, the place he loves to be the most is in the sky – free-falling at 100 miles an hour with the wind in his face. But after his injury five years ago, he feared the one thing he loved the most would no longer be possible.

Jarrett grew up in a family-run skydive business; skydiving was and still is in his blood. The notion of no longer skydiving was never something he was willing to accept, and he never had to. Within months of his injury he was back skydiving, but the AMAZING thing about Jarrett’s return isn’t just the fact that he’s back in the sky, it’s everything he’s also done and making history in the process.

To find out all the amazing things Jarrett has been up to since his spinal cord injury, read our post below.

Why he’s fearless

When we say Jarrett was a born and bred skydiver, we weren’t kidding. He was only 10 years old the first time he tried skydiving, and he was hooked. By the time he was 14 he was jumping solo, and by the time he was 16 he had amassed 1,000 jumps, including 20 base jumps.

After graduating from high school, Jarrett scored a dream summer job at Skydive Hawaii as a rigger, but it was while he was in this tropical paradise when his injury occurred. One afternoon he and some friends decided to try some speedflying tricks (the extreme sport of jumping off mountain sides with a parachute strapped to your back), but his parachute failed to open.

Jarrett crashed hard, not only breaking his back but also tearing his aorta and damaging his lungs and kidneys. “It was a miracle I survived,” Jarrett admits. Now being a T4 injury, Jarrett knew his balance would never be the same, but he was determined to try skydiving again asap. Within six months of his accident he was back skydiving, and soon scored a new skydiving job at Skydive Florida.

He also became a spokesperson for the United States Skydiving Team post-injury, and even returned to skydive competitions around the world, competing in the style and accuracy category, and becoming the only para in the game. Jarrett refused to allow his injury to affect what he loved most.

What’s next?

What’s probably the most impressive thing Jarrett has done post-injury is that he’s gone base jumping again, and has made history as the first paraplegic to base-jump from the heights he’s doing it from. This past summer he and five friends went to Norway, specifically the Helo Boogie area in the fjords, to go one as many base-jobs as possible over an 11 day period.

Jarrett and his friends completed dozens of base-jumps, each time transferring Jarrett into a helicopter and then setting him up on the edge of the mountain so he could throw himself off. It sounds crazy for sure, but the adrenaline rush you get when you base-jump is unlike anything else (and we’re sure it’s even more pronounced when you have a spinal injury). Watch Jarrett & Co. go base-jumping in Norway

And even more unexpected happiness has entered Jarrett’s life post-injury – he landed another awesome skydiving job at Skydive Dubai, which he’s been working at since this past summer. In a country not worried about legalities, this is a great place for a paraplegic to live out his or her skydiving dreams.

We got to give it to Jarrett Martin in a big way. He may have been just 18 when he was injured, but the maturity he’s shown since his injury is unbelievably impressive. We’re thrilled he’s not only “returned” to the sport, but he’s back at it 100%, and that is something no one expected. Gotta love it.

Have you tried skydiving with a spinal cord injury? How did it go?

Follow Jarrett on Facebook

Photo courtesy of Max Haim

Watch the videos!

Heliboogie 2014

Paraplegic Wingsuit Flight

Jarrett’s spinal cord injury story

Jarrett shows how a paraplegic lands after skydiving (funny)

Jens and Jarrett going skydiving