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Florida, rats are walking. In Irvine, California, rats are walking. At
Rutgers and at Georgetown, rats are walking. And here we sit! It seems
that no matter where spinal cord injury research is being conducted, or
how it is being conducted –whether it’s a combination therapy used in
Miami, or a single cellular therapy used in Irvine, one thing is for
certain – scientists have figured out how to make paralyzed rats walk.
And here we sit.
…I very clearly recall sitting in a hospital bed in 1998 and reading, for the first time, a newsletter from the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis. Although my life had recently changed in ways I didn’t yet understand, I told everyone around me that this was an exciting time to have a spinal cord injury. It seemed like there was so much research going on. So much progress being made. So many reasons to be hopeful. I never imagined I’d be sitting here seven years later. In spite of the incredible progress that’s been made in laboratories all over the world, we’ve still got work to do.
Until 2002, I didn’t understand how much politics influenced my dream of walking again. The NIH budget, and how much of it is allocated to spinal cord injury research, the lawfulness of some research – it seems that in some ways science and politics are inseparable. There is nothing controversial about what we’re asking for today, though, and no Senator or Representative should feel a moral conflict over endorsing the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Act.
Passing the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Act, establishing a Clinical Trials Network, and increased funding for research will help to move forward the dream that is shared by so many of us. We’ve had our lives radically altered, we’ve had to sideline our hopes and dreams, and we’ve been forced to find new ways to navigate the world. Although we’ve come from different places, and we’ve arrived here by various methods, we are united in our belief that this one, powerful, recurring dream - to get up out of our chair and walk away - is possible.
People said ten years ago, when Christopher Reeve was injured, that he put a face on spinal cord injuries. I say that spinal cord injury has always had a face. Certainly some are more recognizable than others – Chris Reeve, Marc Buoniconti, Mike Utley, Dennis Byrd – but spinal cord injuries also have the face of Rob Klein and Susan Scofield, Roman Reed, Tim Strachan, Ben Andrews and Geoff Hopkins. 250,000 Americans like us are the face of spinal cord injury. This year we’ll add 10,000 more faces. And 10,000 more next year, and 10,000 more the year after that.
Our numbers are too great – a quarter of a million of us with spinal cord injuries, an additional 2 million Americans living with paralysis of the extremities –for us to be ignored. In recent years it has been Chris Reeve who was at the forefront of our cause. He strapped us onto his back and carried us along while he tirelessly raised awareness and funds, bravely challenged scientists to use the words “hope” and “cure”, and advocated fiercely for what he believed in. Now it is up to us.
You wouldn’t want to spend the rest of your life relying on a wheelchair. You wouldn’t want to live with an increased risk of bladder cancer, heart disease, respiratory disorders, osteoporosis, blood clots, diabetes – diseases that plague our entire population, and cost our country BILLIONS of dollars. The overwhelming majority of us learned very early in our lives how to do what Homosapiens were meant to do – stand up and walk. With the establishment of a clinical trials network, increased funding for a cure for spinal cord injuries, and passage of the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Act, it will not take as long for us to see our dream come true.
If you’re like me, you believe that supporting those three goals is right and proper – not simply to pay tribute to the legacy of Chris Reeve, but because you know that in about 45 minutes, another person in this country will become paralyzed. Most likely it will be someone who is young and active – someone who ends up being robbed of the prime of their life. And that person should not have to endure the hell that we are living.