Dustin Shillcox’s life changed on August 26, 2010. He broke his back, sternum, elbow, four ribs and his lungs collapsed as a result of being thrown from the van he was driving after a tire blowout sent it flipping. He suffered a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed from the chest down.
In January 2013, he became the fourth patient implanted with an epidural stimulator at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, joining a groundbreaking study funded in part by the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. The results have been remarkable, transforming the lives of Shillcox and the other three participants.
Shillcox joined the Wings for Life World Run as an ambassador to further his efforts to elevate awareness of sufferers of spinal cord injuries, and to help raise money to expand and extend the epidural stimulation study to more people. With 100% of Wings for Life World Run entry fees going directly to fund spinal cord injury research, you can help make that dream a reality.
We spoke with Shillcox recently about his experience and the effect it has had on his life.
How did you first get involved with the Reeve Foundation?
I used to do my therapy in Salt Lake City, and back in 2011 I saw an ad featuring the first guy to get implanted with the epidural stimulator. So I did everything I could for about a year and a half — calling down there, going through all the therapy I was supposed to be doing … and I was fortunate enough to get selected for it. It was a shot-in-the-dark kind of thing, and I was very lucky to be that person.
When I got selected, I had to move to Louisville for two years. After I got implanted with the epidural stimulator, I started working with it every day, which is why myself and the three other guys have seen so much progress with it. Being able to move our legs, our toes, our ankles — that’s just increased our overall health.
Now we have The Big Idea, which is to try to raise 15 million dollars so that 36 other people can get the implant. It’s had such a great effect on us; if we can make this available for other people, the next goal is obviously our dream to walk, but this is the first step.
How has the program changed your life?
It’s improved my health by helping to bring back muscle mass, circulation, blood flow … Being able to be upright, standing and bearing weight on your legs increases bone density. It’s huge to bring back autonomic function like blood pressure, cardiovascular, breathing, bowel, bladder and sexual function — those are huge changes in our lives. It’s brought back self-confidence and quality of life.
Before I got the stimulator, there were things that I was either afraid or embarrassed to do, or I wasn’t sure if I could do. Everything from dating to going to the gym, being with your friends and going places. Now you have more control of your body so you’re more confident. It’s a game-changer; it’s been really cool for us four guys, so it’s essential that we raise the money to get it done for everybody else.
How important is it to you to get this therapy in place for others?
It’s obviously something I’m pushing; having a spinal cord injury myself, I know how much this procedure has changed my life so I know it’s important to get everyone up to where we’re at so we can continue getting stronger.
How important are events like WFLWR to spread awareness?
It’s huge, because you don’t think much about people in wheelchairs, or if you do see them, you think that they just can’t walk, that’s it. But there are so many other issues. I obviously want to raise money to find a cure, but there are so many other things that can be noted about someone in a wheelchair, and I’d like to make people aware of that.
I’m not only doing everything I can with the stimulator to benefit myself but also everyone else who’s waiting for it. So the better I can do, we’ll learn more in the research and that will help us all. I feel like it’s a responsibility of mine. Since I’ve had to opportunity to be a part of this cutting-edge research, I want to show people that sitting at home and waiting for the cure is not the way to make it happen. It is a tough situation, but you need to go out, start exercising, get involved in your friend’s lives again, stay active. Your life’s not over because you’re paralyzed.
Having the stimulator has helped improve my life, and I want to be an inspiration to people and give them hope — this guy here is doing it. It’s tough; I really can’t say that to everyone with spinal cord injuries because everyone’s in a different situation and dealing with different things, but it’s a start. Right now we’re at the beginning stages of all these potential milestones. The only thing you can do is give hope and inspiration.
Join Dustin on May 3, 2015 — sign up for the Wings for Life World Run today!