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Research

The Story of the Enchanted Pendant

Melynda Schnee

Melynda Baker, wearing the necklace Dr. Valeria Cavalli created. Photo Credit: Larry Sillen

Melynda Baker arrived at last year's A Magical Evening gala as an honored guest. But when she purchased a $150 raffle ticket that night she never thought she would win, she was just happy to be able to contribute to the Reeve Foundation. Dr. Valeria Cavalli is a Reeve Foundation funded researcher who also happens to make jewelry, and her unique hand-made platinum pendant was one of the raffle prizes. As fate would have it, Melynda won the raffle, and the magical event lived up to its name when these two extraordinary women were brought together by one beautiful piece of jewelry. 

When the raffle winners were announced that night in 2006, Melynda's ticket won Dr. Cavalli’s beautiful hand-made pendant. Both women fondly remember the moment they met as truly magical…because they quickly found out they had a lot more in common than just gratitude for the Reeve Foundation.

Melynda Baker had been a competitive mountain biker with aspirations of going professional. Then, in a split second, her dreams were shattered by a horrible accident. She went through several years of hospitalizations and surgeries until ultimately she was left with no other option than a transtibial amputation.

After enduring this trauma, Melynda realized she could not sit idle. Her life before her injuries was full of movement. So Melynda decided to use her determination to go forward. She joined the Achilles Track Club and became a hand-crank wheelchair racing enthusiast.

She has competed in three races and 15 marathons, including several New York City Marathons. In 2006, she won the "Avis We Try Harder" award for her outstanding athleticism, her ability to overcome adversity and her work as a role model for others with paralysis. It was this award that brought her to Reeve Foundation’s Magical Evening that night as a special guest of the Achilles Track Club.

Dr. Valeria Cavalli and Melynda Baker
Dr. Valeria Cavalli (wearing a necklace like the one she donated to the 2007 A Magical Evening) and Melynda Baker
Dr. Valeria Cavalli was there for an entirely different reason, but she too shared a connection to the Reeve Foundation. Valeria had been interested in neuroscience since her university studies. This curiosity lead to her own research study focused on axonal injuries and the possibility of regenerating communication within the kinesin binding protein "Sunday Driver."

When Valeria found out about funding from the Reeve Foundation, she applied for and was awarded a grant for her research. She now spends her days looking for the kinds of breakthroughs that will change the lives of people like Melynda. 

But there is another side of Valeria -- a creative one that became the catalyst for her meeting Melynda. Dr. Cavalli is also a jewelry maker who recalls making a pendant that unintentionally took the form of an abstract spinal cord. Feeling this symbolized a connection to both her work and her art, Valeria decided to donate it to the Reeve Foundation. It was a small way of showing her appreciation for the foundation's funding.

Today that pendant goes with Melynda wherever she goes. She wears it proudly and is often complimented on its unusual beauty. “Fate brought it too me,” she tells people.

Dr. Cavalli's necklace
Close up of the necklace Dr. Cavalli created and donated to the Foundation.

And Dr. Cavalli is just glad her design went to someone who appreciates it so much. She hopes to bring more smiles to people like Melynda through both her research and her creative designs.

It was truly a serendipitous meeting. Two women, who had both wanted nothing but to give back to others, ended up gaining more than they ever expected that night.

There are so many inspirational stories that evolve from bringing people together in the name of paralysis research. And with your support, the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation will continue to be a focal point for all those who work tirelessly for the cure. Please donate today.

 
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Continue Christopher Reeve's LegacyPhoto by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders