Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland Coláiste Ríoga na Máinleá in Éirinn

Mark Pollock, Explorer & Collaboration Catalyst to Receive RCSI Honorary Doctorate Degree

03 June 2015

Mark Pollock, explorer, adventurer and collaboration catalyst will be awarded an honorary doctorate degree from RCSI (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland) at the School of Medicine conferring ceremony on Thursday 4th June 2015 in the RDS. At the ceremony he will give a talk on "Exploring Possibilities" based on his life's experience.

A County Down adventure athlete, Mark was the first blind person to race to the South Pole. After losing his sight due to a detached retina in 1998 when he was 22, Mark was not going to let his blindness push him off course from his ultra-active and adventurous path. Within a decade of losing his sight, he completed six marathons in seven days in the Gobi desert, won medals at the Commonwealth Games, completed Ironman events, and was part of a team race to the South Pole.

In 2010, four weeks before he was due to marry his finance Simone George, Mark fell from a second-storey window onto concrete and damaged his spinal cord. Left paralysed, he spent 16 months in hospital. Instead of crumbling under the double burden of blindness and paralysis, Mark confronted his spinal-cord injury with characteristic grit and resolve, and with the help of new technology he is exploring the frontiers of spinal injury recovery.

Through the Mark Pollock Trust, he is on a mission to find and connect people around the world to fast track a cure for paralysis. He is working with neuroscientists from UCLA, the Pavlov Institute, in St Petersburg, and the Frazier Rehab Institute, in Kentucky, and is now the world's principal test pilot for Esko Robotic Legs. This cutting-edge research uses robotic implants and attachments to communicate messages to the brain that were formerly transmitted by the now-damaged spinal cord.

He is still in a wheelchair, despite four years of work, including taking 300,000 steps over a two-year period, every single one recorded by his robotic legs and sent in real time for analysis. He is neither deluded nor defeated about the reality of his injury. "There is no cure for spinal-cord injury," he says. "So I have acceptance, on one hand, and hope, on the other. Acceptance that the likelihood of getting out of the wheelchair is almost zero, but hope that the robotics and electrical stimulation of the spine give us enough data to proceed with the research," he said.

Professor Hannah McGee, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, RCSI said ‘It is with great honour that we present Mark with an RCSI honorary doctorate. Mark was chosen to receive the honorary doctorate because of his sheer determination and refusal to give up in the face of such daunting physical challenges, spinal-cord injury and paralysis together with his commitment and perseverance in pioneering medical progress with scientific collaboration. He has led an extraordinary life and will be an inspiration to our graduands on their graduation day as they embark on their careers and choose to make a difference in the world with their talents and education, just as he is doing."

Mark was selected by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader. He is on the Board of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation and is a Wings for Life Ambassador. He is the subject of an acclaimed IFTA nominated documentary Unbreakable, is a TEDx Hollywood Speaker and co-founder of the global running series ‘Run in the Dark'.

In 2010 RCSI was granted independent degree awarding status by the State which enabled the College to award degrees alongside its traditional powers to award licentiates. Previous recipients of the RCSI honorary doctorate are Mary McAleese, former President of Ireland; Professor Fr. Michael Kelly, Jesuit and internationally renowned expert on HIV / AIDS; the Rt Hon Professor the Lord Darzi of Denham KBE and Professor Abraham C. Verghese, physician and best-selling author.

RCSI is among the top 50 most international universities in the world (Times Higher Education University World Rankings, 2014-15). It is a not-for-profit health sciences institution focused on education and research to drive positive change in all areas of human health worldwide. RCSI is headquartered in Dublin and is a recognised College of the National University of Ireland. 
Mark Pollock's speech at the Conferring ceremony will be available to watch via live link on the RCSI website from 4pm (Irish Standard Time).