One Small Step for Ignacio Montoya, One Giant Leap for Paralysis Patients

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One Small Step for Ignacio Montoya, One Giant Leap for Paralysis Patients

Overcoming adversity in the face of tragedy is in Ignacio’s DNA. At the age of 4, Ignacio’s mom passed away from cancer, and at the age of 6, he emigrated to the US from Cuba with nothing more than the clothes on his back. At the age of 22, Ignacio was struck by a minivan while riding his motorcycle. The result was catastrophic: Ignacio sustained collapsed lungs, a broken back, shredded neck nerves, and a spinal cord injury leaving him paralyzed in one arm and both legs.

At the time of his injury, doctors told him he had a 1% chance of regaining any sensation in his arm or legs. With that prognosis, Ignacio set out to continue his studies with a scholarship from the Swim with Mike Foundation, to pursue a master’s degree in biomedical engineering, and travel the globe to study the advancement of spinal cord injury treatments worldwide.

In partnership with world-renown scientist, polio survivor, and UCLA’s vice chair of integrated biology and physiology Dr. Reggie Edgerton, Ignacio has embarked on an aggressive mission to reverse paralysis in spinal cord injury patients. Ignacio currently serves as the Chief Scientific Officer at HINRI Labs, a nonprofit organization with a mission to turn the tide on the standard of care for patients suffering spinal cord and nerve injuries.

Inspiring others and offering hope is what drives Ignacio to press forward. “I want to give paralyzed men and women hope because hope is the key that makes this dream probable,” says Ignacio.

Prior to his accident, Ignacio was studying at Georgia State University and Georgia Tech, and working part-time while training as a cadet in the US Air Force ROTC program as a fighter pilot-select. At the time, Ignacio had his heart set on flying the F-16fighter jet.

Ignacio owes much of the opportunity to pursue his professional dream of making a difference in the lives of other paralysis patients to the Swim with Mike Foundation, offering him the opportunity to complete his education after his accident. In addition to pursuing his studies as a biomedical engineer and kinesiologist at California State University, Los Angeles, Ignacio says he could not be happier to be a participant and a catalyst for this pioneering research.

In 2019, a Chicago symposium connected Dr. Edgerton and Ignacio where they spent the next six hours conversing about the possibilities of becoming a team. While progress is being made, spinal cord research is still at ground zero. Dr. Edgerton and Ignacio aim to change that. Ignacio is the principal participant in the longest clinical trial using electrical stimulation to reverse paralysis in all systems of the body after a spinal cord injury. It is also the first time the body is being analyzed as one whole system.

Although Ignacio has made tremendous strides through treatment and has regained movement and feeling in his legs, his aspirations don’t stop with walking. Ignacio has a dream to enter space and hopes to apply to be an astronaut candidate through NASA. Being a paraplegic, his body makes him well-adapted to a zero-gravity environment.  

Ignacio continues to shoot for the stars and his journey offers an illustration of where hope and dreams take flight.


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