Local paralyzed woman takes on Bridge Run for awareness campaign

Local paralyzed woman takes on Bridge Run for awareness campaign
Updated: Mar. 23, 2016 at 11:46 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - "I call them my purple legs," Marka Danielle Rodgers said, prior to her Wednesday physical therapy session at Roper St. Francis hospital. "My favorite color is purple, my chair is purple and when they asked me what color I wanted my braces, of course, I chose purple."

A 2012 car accident partially paralyzed Rodgers, confining her to a wheelchair as an incomplete quadriplegic.

But as a longtime dancer, trained at the Boston Conservatory of Music and Alvin Ailey in New Yorker, and former local firefighter and EMS worker, Rodgers trained diligently to prepare her body to use the battery-powered leg braces.

The E-Mag Active Stance control braces are also referred to as K.A.F.O. (knee ankle foot orthosis) braces. Rodgers set is manufactured by ottobock.

The braces use a mix of sensor, batteries and gyroscope to support Rodgers in her limited movement capabilities to walk.

After almost nine months of training with her new "legs," Rodgers is now planning to take on the 2016 Cooper River Bridge Run.

"Marka used to work for me at the wellness center. She was a dancer and taught class," Julian Smith, Director of the Cooper River Bridge Run, said. "It'll be the first time that someone with nerve damage in their legs will be able to walk with these new legs. The technology is amazing."

The technology is also expensive. Rodger's leg braces cost $20,000, $10,000 per leg. Rodgers said they are not covered by her insurance so a friend purchased her pair.

Yet, the price tag is part of the reason she decided to join this year's Bridge Run event.

"This technology is not available to everybody but could be," Rodger, also a spinal cord injury patient advocate, said. She adds that her particular braces aren't necessarily for everybody, but for her, they've been life-changing. "I get up in the morning and look forward to doing things more than I ever did since the accident."

Rodgers said there also are cons to the set. She said they are heavy; their use is limited to battery time. She also said they can't get wet so her niece made special covers in case of rain on the April 2 race. But what she referred to as "cons" hasn't deterred her. Rodgers already completed a test run across the Cooper River Bridge with one of her physical therapists.

"I don't know how you cannot be inspired by Marka's journey," Kyle Cooper, Roper St. Francis physical therapist, said. Cooper accompanied Rodgers across her trial run. "I'm inspired every day. Just to see, if not this goal, then some other goal is possible for anybody. You just have to shoot for it."

Rodgers said she aims to finish the 6.2 miles. But the race is as much about awareness as it is about testing physical endurance. She's currently running a Facebook campaign with the hashtag "Purple Legs UP," where she is working to jump start a conversation about the technology and its availability to those with paralysis.

"If a family member, a patient, a therapist, a doctor, bracing companies....mostly insurance companies…see that modern technology works, it is worth paying for," Rodgers said. "It is worth helping other people."

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