JCU alum tells story of overcoming paralysis

December 11th, 2014

Alumnus David Markovich ‘14 spoke on Thursday, Dec. 4 at the Donahue Auditorium about his life journey. Markovich went from having paralysis to eventually running a half marathon. His presentation was sponsored by the JCU Student Athlete Advisory Committee.


David Markovich explained Transverse Myelitis using the example of a lamp. The head of the lamp is the brain, the lamp cord is the spinal cord and the outlet the cord is plugged into represents the extremities. The cord is how the brain communicates to the arms and legs. When the lamp is plugged in halfway, it flickers and loses connection.


Transverse Myelitis is a rare autoimmune condition where the body overreacts and attacks itself. This inflammatory disease causes injury to the spinal cord. It can be described as the perfect storm of physical, emotional and psychological chaos and is characterized by numbness, a burning pain and uncontrollable shaking.


“It is crazy that this happened to someone at John Carroll. I had never heard of [the disease] before.” said freshman Roserita DiMillo.


The evening began with a short video from the television show “Mystery Diagnosis,” which explained many of the symptoms of Transverse Myelitis.


In April of 2014, Markovich experienced what the doctors said were “virus-like symptoms.” The week of April 20, Markovich lost feeling in his legs and had to go to the Cleveland Clinic. There, he underwent a treatment called Plasmapheresis. “A machine takes your blood, filters it after cleaning the plasma, and then returns your blood to your body,” Markovich explained.


He then moved to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. There, he took many medications, hoping something would work. Markovich had a lift team of people while in the hospital who would move him if he needed to go somewhere. During his time at Johns Hopkins Markovich “tried to keep a sense of humor.” He showed a picture of himself in a hospital bed with a sign in the background, saying, “High Risk for Falls” because Markovich was prone to falling when he began trying to walk again.


After Johns Hopkins, Markovich moved to Good Samaritan Hospital in Maryland, where he went through physical therapy. He had two physical therapists who pushed him to walk as well as an occupational therapist who helped him perform daily living tasks on his own.


Markovich worked on his recovery for four hours a day. He also went through Functional Electric Stimulation (FES) therapy. This involves electric pads that shock the nerves in your legs so they can communicate with the muscles.


Markovich celebrated a birthday while in the hospital by attending a baseball game with his physical therapists and other medical staff. The Baltimore Orioles were playing the Cleveland Indians that day. “I took that as a sign,” Markovich said. After intense physical therapy, Markovich was able to walk on his own two feet.


After he was discharged from the hospital, Markovich’s goal was to run a 5K or three miles. He said he wanted to run a 5K for two reasons. “[I wanted] to push myself to the limit and motivate people to see that if I can do it, so can you.” Markovich ended up running a half-marathon with his girlfriend in Baltimore in three hours and 12 minutes.


He continued the presentation with slides entitled, “10 things you know but never do.” These slides were a collection of things he learned while battling his disease in the hospital. The slides listed 10 points: be assertive, but respectful; question everything; focus on the future; keep the faith; stay positive; work hard; create a stress-free atmosphere; keep loved ones near; stay smart, but not too smart; enjoy life.


Markovich talked about each point and explained that over-analyzing is why one should be smart, but not too smart.


Only five in one million people have Transverse Myelitis, and two-thirds of them never fully recover. “You can’t change the past,” Markovich said. “I can either dwell on the past or shift my focus to the future.”


Sophomores Andrea Regrut and Dana Roman, members of JCU’s soccer team, said, “As athletes, it is motivational to hear his story. It inspires us to be the best we can be.”


Markovich ended the presentation, saying that if he was able to come back from a disease that left him paralyzed, then we shouldn’t limit ourselves as to what we can do.