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Visualizing the Path: Joe Morgan and Virtual Reality in Recovery

“I feel really blessed and lucky. Not everyone has the luxury of a second chance. I’d like to use mine to give back.”


You might not expect to hear this from someone who has gone through what Joe Morgan has. In the last year, Joe survived a spinal cord injury and has begun treatment for prostate cancer. Where some might be overwhelmed and discouraged by these obstacles, Joe chooses to go against the grain and remain optimistic. Instead of being isolated by the path to recovery, Joe is using his rehab to improve his life and the lives of others.

Joe’s therapy at QLI has been defined by creativity, technology, and a pattern of surpassed limitations. Although Joe excels in all of his therapies at QLI, a particular form excites him the most: virtual reality. Virtual reality (VR) technology comes in many different forms, including the Oculus Rift, which Joe uses during regular therapy sessions. Putting on the Oculus Rift takes the wearer to a different world–any world they want. For Joe, that world offers vivid biking trails that motivate him on a Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) bike, a device that uses electrical pulses to stimulate Joe’s impaired leg muscles. Biking has always been a passion for Joe, and using the Oculus Rift simultaneously with other therapy tools helps him forget about his injury, returning to a place and and experience that feel natural.

“Therapy on its own can get monotonous,” Joe said. “The feeling that I’m actually riding helped me ride [on the FES bike] twice as fast for twice as long.”

“Virtual reality provides an outlet for Joe,” said Erin McNamara, Joe’s occupational therapist at QLI. “It’s an opportunity for him to remain stimulated and motivated, because he’s focused on what his work can do for other people.”

“I just see it as having endless possibilities. It’s unreal,” said Joe.

Although both Joe and Erin claim to be “far from tech savvy,” the technology they put to use says otherwise.

Joe counts photography among his many passions, and owns a virtual reality video camera capable of recording 360˚ video. With it, he records his own virtual reality footage and lends the camera out to members of the QLI team, building VR experiences of Nebraska Cornhusker football games, concerts, rides on local bike trails, and more. Joe wants to build simulated experiences for others–those who cannot access these experiences on their own or those who are, like him, on their path to recovery. He hopes others might use the power of VR to increase their output the same way he has.

“Joe always does things with other people in mind,” said McNamara.

Joe’s work with other people has a healing element for himself as he continues to recover from his injury and receive treatment for his illness. Using virtual reality has kept his goals and ambitions as optimistic as ever. By the end of the year, Joe plans on being able to walk independently. His time with the Oculus Rift has also motivated him to return to some of the biking trails that he has been able to see through the lens of VR.

Joe’s courage, relentless optimism, and willingness to defy limitations continue to inspire his QLI team every day. Joe not only paves his path to recovery but the paths of others as well.

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