Marc Buoniconti: How I achieved independence with assistive technology and speech recognition

Life can change in the blink of an eye – from being in the best shape of your life to being paralyzed on a football field. That life-changing moment led to my family’s fight against paralysis over the last 30 years, resulting in the birth of The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis – the only center in the world that has five FDA approved clinical trials targeting paralysis, while also going beyond research to drive leading initiatives that improve the quality of life for all people with disabilities.
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Father and son Nick and Marc Buoniconti pose in front of a research center for the Miami Project, striving to cure paralysis

Paralysis does not discriminate, it happens in a split second.  But not to me, I thought I was invincible.  I was a young healthy kid – the only things I worried about were girls, football and fun…not necessarily in that order.

It was my dream to follow in the footsteps of my NFL Hall of Fame father, Nick Buoniconti.

But then comes that split second – where your life changes in the blink of an eye. One moment I was in the best shape of my life, and in the next moment, I lay paralyzed on the field fighting for my life.

I couldn’t even get the word out of my mouth…”paralyzed.”

That evening with tubes in my nose and throat and unable to talk, my family stood by my bedside. My Dad could see in my eyes that I was asking for help. He leaned over my bed and promised to me that he would do anything and everything in his power to beat my paralysis.

That promise would soon become our family’s mantra and begin a scientific revolution.

 

Searching for a cure

Over the last 30 years my family and I have worked with world-renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Barth Green to change medical history through The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, born in 1985.

The Miami Project is the only center in the world that has five FDA approved clinical trials targeting paralysis. For example, our Schwann Cell Trials, peripheral nerve cells are harvested from each patient’s own sural nerve in the leg, then multiplied from a few cells to millions in our laboratories and transplanted directly into the area of injury in the spinal cord. We have transplanted Schwann cells into 6 newly injured paraplegics, with promising results in restoration of function and sensation.

The Miami Project is also going beyond research to drive leading initiatives that improve the quality of life for all people with disabilities. We are actively partnering with leading companies, like Nuance, to improve people’s daily life.

And for me, this is deeply personal.

Assistive technologies make possible the seemingly impossible – and one that has literally changed my life, is speech recognition and document dictation technology like Dragon NaturallySpeaking.

I was an early adopter of Dragon, and seeing my words become text and my voice navigate my PC was liberating. Dragon turned my voice into real power and enabled me to connect with the world through my OWN voice.

Whether I am dictating Miami Project documents, working on email or just surfing the Web, Dragon allows me to be more productive and has provided the independence that I so desperately needed.

I began my journey with Dragon years ago, and over time voice has transitioned from an assistive technology for dictation, to one that is becoming incredibly valuable across a number of applications. We’ve seen voice play a role in mobile phone experiences for quite some time, with voice guidance, message and menu readout, and of course, command and control capabilities that have now made the smartphone experience one that everyone can take advantage of.

The connected home is also becoming conversational, with smart TVs and cable providers offering voice as a way to not only turn on and navigate program guides and access content, but also read menu guides aloud with text-to-speech. And with many of our electronics, apps and services integrating voice as part of the growing Internet of Things, the world’s innovations are becoming more accessible. To bring the experience full circle, voice biometrics paired with “wake-up” technology offers a personalized experience across a range of connected devices that not only hear a user’s voice to become engaged, but recognize that voice and deliver content and information specifically for that user. In a growing economy of shared devices, this personalization becomes key to our experiences.

Advances in voice and other assistive technologies are important for creating day-to-day experiences that help those with disabilities regain independence and confidence. For most people, and especially spinal cord injured people, having independence is one of the most important things to achieve.

Spinal cord injury is a devastating and life altering change. Most spinal cord injuries occur to young, active men and women in the prime of their lives. You can only imagine how one feels to be jogging, riding a bicycle or just taking a dive in the ocean or pool, and suddenly your independence is completely shattered.

Gaining back independence is one of the first things rehabilitation teaches you. A big aspect of regaining your independence with a spinal cord injury is to learn what assistive technology products are available to aid with every day activities.

To learn more about Marc Buoniconti and the Buoniconti Fund, please visit The Miami Project.

 

To help educate the spinal cord injury community about the life changing technology that will improve their quality of life, we encourage you to share your insights through our survey – found below or at this link.

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Marc Buoniconti

About Marc Buoniconti

Marc Buoniconti sustained a spinal cord injury playing football in college, leaving him unable to move a muscle below his neck. His injury not only changed his life, but the lives of others with disabilities for Marc went on to become a strong advocate of the disabled community and leading the neuroscience research efforts of The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis. The Buoniconti Fund has more than 300 scientists, researchers, clinicians, and support staff dedicated to conducting cutting edge discovery, translational, and clinical investigations targeting spinal cord and brain injuries. To learn more about Marc Buoniconti and the Buoniconti Fund, please visit the Miami Project’s website.