Martin Codrye tells Celine Naughton how he's searching for a miracle cure to help him walk again
It has to be down to people like me to own this problem, do the research
Since breaking his neck in a freak accident four years ago, 36-year-old Martin Codyre is dedicating his life to finding a cure for paralysis.
Before the moment that changed his life, Martin had the world at his feet. A Wall Street high-flyer from Bray, Co Wicklow, he had been snapped up to work with Goldman Sachs, then Merrill Lynch in New York. He played rugby for the Village Lions club in New York and his enviable lifestyle allowed him to indulge his love of sports, including trips to some of the finest ski resorts in the world.
"What I have now is a shadow of my former life, which was pretty cool," he says. "I loved playing rugby, skiing, mountain biking and all those adrenaline-type pursuits."
Inspired by the 'can do' philosophy of his adopted town, he had set up his own business in live mobile video. It had begun to crack the US and he had plans to make it global. With 10 years' experience in the heart of the world's financial capital and contacts that would make a dragon weep, he was set to become one of the most celebrated of this country's diaspora.
He may still be celebrated, but for very different reasons. The turning point for Martin came four years ago at a friend's wedding, when he fell on the dance floor, head first. In seconds, his neck was broken. As an ambulance rushed him to the Mater Hospital, two of his vertebrae were already crushed. He wasn't in pain. When your neck is broken, you don't feel pain. You don't feel anything.
"Well, my head hurt like hell, but apart from that I felt nothing," says Martin, "yet it didn't occur to me then how serious it was. It wasn't like I'd come off a high building or had a car crash at speed. It was just a little slip on a dance floor. I'd be fine."
He spent the first 10 days on a life-support machine, unable to breathe for himself. "It's a strange feeling, being conscious but unable to speak or breathe. I remember trying to use eye movements to ask my father to put on my iPod so I could listen to my music."
It was a devastating time for all the family, his mum, dad and younger brother and sister. "When something like this happens, it affects everybody you hold dear," he says. MRI scans and other tests showed the damage was irreversible. Martin was paralysed from the shoulders down. In an instant, the one-time entrepreneur and sports enthusiast had become wheelchair bound and relying on carers to tend to his physical needs.
He flinches at the word 'carers'. "I don't need anybody to care for me," he says. "I need people to do the things I physically can't do for myself. I call them personal assistants."
Slowly, over the following weeks, he learned to breathe unaided. On September 24, the day he was due to return to New York, he was transferred to the National Rehabilitation Hospital for further treatment and months of rehab.
He now lives in a bungalow in Co Wicklow, with two personal assistants on hand round-the-clock to tend to his needs.
"There are lots of things I can't do," he says, sipping coffee from a straw on a table with a massive picture of Audrey Hepburn on the wall behind. On another wall is a large print of a New York street scene, a reminder of the city he loves for all its energy, culture and hard ambition.
It's true that there are lots of things he can't do. He can't get in or out of bed by himself, he can't make tea and, until he gets a new, specially adapted wheelchair, he can't drive a car. But he can use a computer and a mobile phone -- and he is determined that he will be a key player in finding a cure for paralysis.
With an honours degree in engineering from UCD, an intense knowledge of modern technology and his first-hand experience at the coalface of economic trading, Martin doesn't see this as a pipedream but as his most important challenge to date.
Like the late actor Christopher Reeve, who wrote a book called Nothing is Impossible after becoming paralysed in a fall from a horse, Martin is determined that a cure for spinal cord injuries will be found.
"My personal goal is to be able to move my thumb," he says. "That would give me a huge amount of flexibility, but I really believe that once we make a connection with a digit like a thumb, we can use that technology to reconnect the brain to damaged nerves which will allow people to walk again."
Since his accident he has studied the latest research in spinal cord injuries and has been to conferences all over the world, most recently in China and Canada, speaking directly to the world's leading scientists in the field.
"It has to be down to people like me to own this problem, do the research and become as knowledgeable as the scientists," he says.
It is a testament to his indomitable spirit that Martin perseveres in his goal, even in times of adversity. The latest trip to the conference in Canada proved a challenge when he cut his leg and it became infected.
"When you're paralysed, you are vulnerable to skin infections and pressure sores because there isn't enough circulation," he says. However, even though his leg started swelling, Martin was determined to make a meeting he had arranged with particular scientists.
"This trip was planned for six months -- I wasn't about to let anything get in the way," he says. The meeting was a success -- he is confident it will help pave the way for important research -- but straight afterwards he was rushed to hospital in Vancouver where he spent five days in the ER with cellulitis.
Even when he returned home it took time to build up his energy levels, but soon he was able to resume his daily routine. Modern technology, which was always second nature to Martin, has proved a lifeline.
Every day he collaborates with like-minded individuals through conference calls and the internet. His networking has garnered him support from friends and personal contacts worldwide.
"It's not an easy journey," he says. "We need great amounts of money and political will along with hundreds of scientists working on a global level on the most promising research. It will take decades, but it can be done. The problem is not a scientific one. It's getting the motivation of all the players in the chain to make it happen."
Martin quotes billionaire investor and philantrophist Warren Buffett who coined the phrase 'skin in the game,' a term used to describe people having a personal stake in an investment or project.
"Without skin in the game, you don't have the motivation to take the risks required," says Martin.
"I have the education to understand this stuff. I have an entrepreneurial and questioning background, I know how money works and I am in a unique position to make a difference, so how can I not dedicate a significant portion of my energy and resources to finding a solution to this problem?"