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Making a Difference. In His Own Words: Alan T. Brown

Alan T. Brown in Washington, DC

On January 2, 1988, I was in Martinique on vacation and I became caught in the undertow and my body was flipped over my head in the ocean floor and I broke C5 and C6 in my neck. I remember it vividly. I heard my neck snap and my body going numb. I was in the water for over 2 minutes before a few of my friends saw me and grabbed me out of the ocean and pulled me to safety.

I was airlifted off the beach and taken to the hospital in Martinique. They put my Halo on my head backwards so when the air ambulance came from Miami they had to unscrew it and then re-screw it into my head. I spent 6 1/2 weeks in the intensive care unit and had surgery on my 21st birthday. They implanted 11 screws into metal plates to my fifth and sixth vertebrae…what a great gift.

I struggle every day to do the things that came easily to me before my injury. I see so many families that are broken up by the injury and do not have the resources or the wherewithal to overcome the devastation around a spinal cord injury. All this led me to be involved with the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.

The injury had changed my life in so many ways that is actually hard to explain. Everything changes; from how your brain works, to how you do daily tasks, and you look at everything differently. One of the hardest things I have to deal with is not being able to be a "typical" father to my two boys. It is very difficult to try to be a parent and live with a spinal cord injury every day, but it will not stop me. It's hard, but you always keep going. And in a strange way, although it’s hard to say, this injury got me on a path that is a better than where I was before my accident.

By chance, I met Congressman Ted Deutch at a Maroon Five and Train concert in West Palm Beach. While we were together before the show we started talking and we got on the conversation of my injury and my affiliation with the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. Immediately, his eyes perked up and he wanted to know more about the organization and the issues important to me and to others living with a spinal cord injury. I took the opportunity to ask him if I could meet with him in his office to talk through all of these issues in more detail, and he agreed. When I met with him in his office, I was able to explain in detail the challenges for our population and how we need individuals like him to help us in Washington. We are now in the process of setting up a meeting with him and his staff in Washington!

When I said hello to Congressman Deutch at the concert, I wasn’t thinking about advocacy or the specific policy issues I know are important to our community. I simply wanted him to understand what my life is like with a spinal cord injury and how federal programs help me each and every day. And when he invited me to continue the conversation in his office, I realized that there is no way he or other Members of Congress will understand our issues unless they are either personally impacted or someone tells them. It is incumbent on each of us to make sure that our representatives in Washington are able to put a face on the federal programs we all depend on. And it can be as easy as a chance meeting or making a phone call to your Members office to set up a meeting.

The amount of time that I've been injured, over 23 years, I have had my share of struggles. I've had six surgeries, and undergo the constant battles with Medical and health issues. But I am still active and work on being a better person, being a parent, being a father, being a businessman and a friend. I know that my story is not unique. In fact, it is so similar to the people who I have met living with a spinal cord injury. It is so important that we all get out there and talk to Members of Congress and the public about our challenges as well as how we are working to remain as active members in our communities with the help of critical federal programs.

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Continue Christopher Reeve's LegacyPhoto by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders