Quadriplegic Former Firefighter Uses New Technology to Communicate

Former Fargo firefighter Rory Eidsness never expected to lose his ability to communicate with his friends and family. But eight years ago, he had a rare brainstem stroke that left him as a quadriplegic.

Today, the 19-year veteran firefighter uses eye-detecting technology to cope with "locked-in syndrome,” which leaves Eidsness trapped in his own mind; he's able to absorb the world around him, but unable to speak or move.

The new technology, NBC's Fargo/Grand Forks affiliate KVLY reports, scans Eidness eyes as he looks at certain letters to spell out his thoughts and then reads his sentences out loud. While Rory is grateful to have this computer, which didn't exist when he first became a quadriplegic, he said it is still too slow.

"I'm not a very good speller and I have to try to spell my thoughts if I want to share them," Eidness told KVLY.

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His wife, Kari Eidness, is happy to see her husband being able to express his thoughts again. She told KVLY that before the newest computer, her husband could only blink for yes or no, forcing family and friends to rely on his facial expressions.

"The technology has been a godsend," she said. "He watched his world a lot. He went into his head because it was so hard to communicate."

Doctors attribute this rare type of stroke to heavy ladder training that may have damaged arteries in his neck. Current Fargo Fire Chief Steve Dirksen, who was not chief during the accident, told KVLY on behalf of the department, "Our hearts go out to Rory."

Dirksen said firefighters follow national training guidelines for safety, noting that he had never heard of Eidness' rare incident being an occupational hazard. While, the department's training techniques have not changed, Dirksen told reporters their outlook on the job has, "The reality is there for all of us that one snap of a finger and your life can change."

While Eidness also did not know of the risks when becoming a firefighter, KVLY reported, but he doesn't regret his time with the department: "What happened to me was a freak thing," he said.

Thinking of his colleagues keeps him motivated during physical therapy, which he does five days a week and water therapy three days a week, KVLY reported. 

"All things considered," he said. "I'm doing pretty good."

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