Sunday, December 15, 2019 -
Print Edition

Bright, funny, happy and. . . trapped in a body that does not work

Eric Blackwood


Eric Blackwood knows a thing or two about imagination — not the kind that inspires great literature or art but allows him to soar in a wheelchair and reach for a cure that doesn’t yet exist.

Eric, who turns 16 this August, is a teenager in every respect. He thinks about girls, loves the Avengers, routinely debates his mother and wants to be a mental health counselor.

He just can’t talk, walk or control his bodily movements — all the activities non-disabled people generally perform without a moment’s thought or gratitude — and is completely dependent on others.

A bright, funny teen, Eric was unable to communicate his most basic needs until he began using ECO, an advanced computer system. Now he discusses complex ideas, makes jokes, and sets hesitant strangers at ease.

“Without this device we would still be guessing what he wanted,” says Elizabeth Blackwood, who sits next to her son in the IJN’s handicap-accessible conference room downstairs. “ECO has changed his life dramatically.”

Eric manipulates the computer’s cursor by hitting his jawbone against a large blue switch attached to his wheelchair. It’s a laborious process that requires patience between the speaker and recipient.

“When Eric’s friends Facebook him, they forget he’s disabled,” Elizabeth explains. “It feels more like a conversation: you type something, get a snack, come back, read a comment. That ‘time out’ mimics Eric pace.

“He does all of his homework on ECO but it takes a long time, so we modify the assignments. Writing a five-page paper would take all year!”

Mother and son share one of those “Oh yeah I totally get it” looks, completing each other’s thoughts with their respective abilities.

Eric, his father Lee, 10-year-old brother David and Elizabeth recently returned from Panama City’s Stem Institute, where Eric endured a grueling procedure involving umbilical stem cells.

Some of his symptoms have already shown signs of improvement.

“We had heard about this treatment, which is not approved by the FDA,” Elizabeth says, “and Eric did additional research over the Internet. We considered going to Germany, but some of Eric’s friends at Pine Creek High in Colorado Springs suggested Panama.”

The prohibitive cost — $19,500 — is not covered by insurance. “So the next question was, how do we do this? Then they told me they take Visa and MasterCard,” she laughs. “Oh, and cash or wire. It also cost $3,000 to fly all four of us to Panama.”

Eric, who resides in Black Forest, made an appeal to the community on his blog. Donations poured in from family, friends, strangers and the Jewish community — particularly Chabad of Lone Tree, where he attended Hebrew School.

The rest of this article is available in the IJN’s print edition only. Contact Carol to order your copy at (303) 861-2234 or email

Andrea Jacobs

IJN Senior Writer |

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