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In 2014, David Markovich chalked up a tingling sensation in his legs and pain in his lower back to nothing more than signs of being tired. But in a matter of hours, he lost the ability to walk. It wasn’t due to an accident or injury but rather a rare condition called acute transverse myelitis, a neurological disorder caused by inflammation in sections of the spinal cord. While the temporary condition became an unexpected obstacle, his experience provided an insight to the challenges older adults and people with disabilities encounter daily.

Markovich, now pursuing dual master’s degrees in gerontology and health administration through a joint program between the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology and the USC Price School of Public Policy, used his experience to submit an innovative product idea for the USC Leonard Davis School’s inaugural Brighten Award for Entrepreneurial Gerontology competition. His concept, the ShowerBalance System, won him the contest’s $20,000 grant award to develop his product to help improve the lives of older adults and their families.

Working towards Recovery

In April 2014, Markovich’s life was disrupted and he describes spending the next five months trying to recover from his paralysis with the help of great physicians and physical therapy. But through his progress, he struggled with his new limitations.

“I was frustrated by the fact that it was very difficult for me to take a shower,” said Markovich. “When I first started gaining movement and feeling back, I would use something in the bathroom to hold myself up.”

Being able to stand and move around the bathroom was therapeutic and empowering.  Not only was it a form of physical therapy for his muscles, but he says ability to stand instilled a sense of confidence and an ability to return to his routine.

Insights to Product

Preparing to enter the Brighten Award for Entrepreneurial Gerontology competition, Markovich reflected on the most difficult challenges he faced during his experience and immediately thought of the shower. His insight led him to create the ShowerBalanceSystem, a portable all-encompassing device made to provide standing support primarily in the shower, but adaptable to other areas of the home.

Compared to his device, Markovich says other products addressing these issues only provide single-sided support and are not adjustable for other members in a household.

“I’m very honored to receive the award and I’m very grateful for Mr. and Mrs. Xu’s contributions to the school, including this award which will help me tremendously in the development of my product,” said Markovich.

The ShowerBalance System is currently pending patent approval. Markovich hopes with the grant funding he’ll be able to start work right away, under the supervision of his faculty advisor George Shannon, holder of the Kevin Xu Chair in Gerontology and professor at the USC Leonard Davis School.

“This product offers exactly the kind of innovation we hoped to inspire with the Brighten Award,” said Kevin Xu ‘11, who established the competition with his wife Leah Yang MA’13. “We look forward to seeing how the ShowerBalanceSystem and other entrepreneurial products and services can redefine the future of aging.”

Future Aspirations   

While Markovich’s unique experience influenced the concept for his product, pursuing a career in gerontology stems from his close relationship with his grandfather and the valuable experiences he created while volunteering at his local senior center.

“I’ve wanted to make a significant difference prior to being struck with this condition, but through this device, I now have an outlet to do that,” he said.

Following the completion of his studies, Markovich hopes to continue to develop the product so that he can put it out on the market for older adults, disabled people and other who could benefit from it.

The Brighten Award for Entrepreneurial Gerontology was established by Kevin Xu ‘11 and his wife, Leah Yang MA’13, named in honor of their son and designed to inspire and support students from the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology to innovate new and emerging products and services to improve the lives of older persons and their families.

Above (L-R): George Shannon, David Markovich, Kevin Xu (photo by Steve Cohn).


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