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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Building a Bionic Reality

Torn from an issue of "Hello" magazine.

In 1972, Martin Caidin’s novel Cyborg excited people with the idea of bionic replacements for injured limbs and damaged organs.  TV shows like “The Six Million Dollar Man” and “The Bionic Woman” explored how such technology might not only allow recipients to live ordinary lives, but to serve their communities in extraordinary ways.  Visions of a bionic tomorrow fueled hope among the disabled.  When I wrote to Kenneth Johnson, asking for permission to share a portion of our correspondence with you (included in yesterday’s post), he also offered this insight.

“In addition to what I wrote you previously about my responses to disabled kids, I often said that maybe they would grow up to be the doctor or scientist who actually helped create such real bionic devices.”

I would not be surprised if Kenneth Johnson’s TV show, and his encouragement to disabled children, bore such fruit in today’s technology and medical fields.  While many use Science Fiction to warn against dystopian futures, other authors empower us to dream about a better tomorrow.  I’m not sure what dreams fueled Israeli entrepreneur Amit Goffer, but he has designed ReWalk, a lightweight brace suit.  Powered by rechargeable batteries, a computer drives actuation motors and motion sensors.  After proper training, the paralyzed wearer uses crutches for stability, and must focus intensely on each step, as he or she cannot feel their legs.  Still, the suit offers something a paralyzed person would otherwise never regain: the ability to stand, walk and climb stairs. 

Recently hailed by Britain’s “Hello” magazine as a real life "Bionic Woman,” Claire Lomas is an irrepressible young woman who refuses to let her injury constrain her dreams.  In the five years since the horse riding accident that broke her neck, back, and ribs, Claire has gone skydiving, learned to monoski, and returned to horseback riding.  With the aid of the ReWalk suit, she’s added one more item to her list of impressive achievements: the London Marathon.  It might have taken her sixteen days to complete the 26.2 mile course, but how many of us with normal ability manage a two-mile walk each day?

Unfortunately, even in a bionic reality created out of yesterday’s dreams, technology such as the ReWalk suit remains out of the grasp of most people.  Claire had to borrow the $70,000 suit, but as of today’s writing, her accomplishment has raised over $270,000 for Spinal Research.  So, while Claire may not work in the medical or technology fields, she is doing her part to create a better future for all of us.

To some, Science Fiction is just entertainment.  Over the years, many have derided my love for the genre by labeling it as escapist fiction.  But I think we all know, deep down, that it is much more than that.  Science Fiction allows us to dream about a better tomorrow.  Perhaps all of us cannot conceive of powerful dreams that will make their way into print, or onto TV and movie screens.  But by daring to dream, by encouraging others to dream, and by supporting the dreams of others, we can aid people like Martin Caidin, Kenneth Johnson, Claire Lomas, Amit Goffer, and all those who help transform today’s dreams into a better tomorrow. 

Still daring to dream,
Dragon Dave

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In addition to "Hello" magazine, and the sources listed above, I’d also like to thank: 

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