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Trojan turns temporary paralysis into innovation for older adults

May 6, 2017 12:14 am

$20,000 award from alumni supporters enables student to develop product that will help aging and disabled people stand

In 2014, David Markovich felt a shivering sensation in his legs and intense pain in his lower back but attributed it to being tired.

But soon after, he lost the capacity to walk. Markovich had been diagnosed with an uncommon neurological disorder called acute transverse myelitis. It’s a temporary condition caused by inflammation in different sections of the spinal cord but his experience offered him an understanding of the difficulties older individuals and people with handicaps experience every day.

Markovich, now pursuing a double graduate degrees in gerontology and health administration through a joint program between the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology and the USC Price School of Public Policy, utilized his experience to present an idea for USC Davis’ initially Brighten Award for Entrepreneurial Gerontology. His idea, the ShowerBalance System, won him a $20,000 award to build up his product that could help enhance the lives of older individuals and their families.

The Brighten Award for Entrepreneurial Gerontology was set up by Kevin Xu ’11 and his wife, Leah Yang MA ’13. It is intended to support USC Davis students to come up with new ideas and products enhance the lives of older individuals and their families.

Working toward recovery

The disorder disrupted Markovich’s life in 2014, he spent the following five months attempting to recoup from his loss of motion with the assistance from doctors and physical therapy. But as his health progressed, he battled with new confinements.

“I was frustrated by the fact that it was very difficult for me to take a shower,” he said. “When I first started gaining movement and feeling [again], I would use something in the bathroom to hold myself up.”

After restoring the capacity to stand and move around the bathroom, Markovich felt empowered. It worked as therapy for him not only physically but mentally too. He felt confident that soon enough he will be able to return to his routine.

Showered with blessings

Planning to enter the Brighten competition, Markovich pondered over the hardest difficulties he faced amid his 2014 experience and instantly thought about the shower. The understanding prompted the creation of ShowerBalanceSystem. It is an all-encompassing device, made to give standing support in the shower, but it’s also portable enough to be moved around in different parts of the house.

Markovich said there are similar products in the market that address these problems but they just give single-sided support and are not customizable for different individuals in the family. His product offers all those amenities.

“I’m very honored to receive the award, and I’m very grateful for Mr. and Mrs. Xu’s contributions to the school, including this award which will help me tremendously in the development of my product,” Markovich said.

The item is currently pending patent endorsement. After securing all the funding, Markovich plans to work under the supervision of school faculty George Shannon, holder of the Kevin Xu Chair in Gerontology and Professor at USC Davis.

“This product offers exactly the kind of innovation we hoped to inspire with the Brighten Award,” Xu said. “We look forward to seeing how the ShowerBalanceSystem and other entrepreneurial products and services can redefine the future of aging.”

Future aspirations

While Markovich’s experience was the inspiration behind his product, seeking after a profession in gerontology originates from the association with his granddad and his time as a volunteer at a neighborhood senior center.

“I’ve wanted to make a significant difference prior to being struck with this condition, but through this device, I now have an outlet to do that,” he said.

After the completion of his degree, Markovich would like to finish his product and make it available to older adults, people with disabilities or anyone in need of it by putting it out in the market.