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Spinal Cord Injury Paralysis Resource Center

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Two Friends. Two Injuries. One Mission.   

By: Janelle LoBello

Name: Danny Heumann
Injury: T4 paraplegic
Mechanism of injury: Auto accident
Date of injury: August 13, 1985
Hometown: Riverdale, NY
Website: heumannlycapable.com
Alan T. Brown Name: Alan Brown
Injury: C5, C6 quadriplegic
Mechanism of injury: Swimming accident
Date of injury: January 2, 1988
Hometown: New York, NY
Website: atbf.org

Having been classmates and friends since the 1980s, Danny Heumann and Alan T. Brown share a unique story that has now brought them together again as members of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation Board of Directors.

Danny was paralyzed at 18-years-old in August 1985 in a car accident. In January 1988, Alan became paralyzed, at the age of 20, as a result of a swimming accident.

"We're two New York boys who bit the bullet," says Danny, 42, of himself and Alan, 43. "He broke his neck. It wasn't enough to be paralyzed; he had to become a quad to show me up!"

Alan and Danny in high school

Alan and Danny
in high school

"I would never think in a class of 70 kids, that two kids, two best friends, were going to end up in wheelchairs," says Alan. "We walked down the aisle together at our high school graduation," explains Alan, who considers Danny to be like a brother to him. "That was probably the last time I saw Danny walking."

Danny's broken back
Just two weeks before he was set to begin his freshman year at Syracuse University, Danny was injured in an auto accident while serving as a camp counselor in the Adirondacks. "The driver of the car I was in was speeding around a curb," explains Danny, quick to point out there were no drugs or alcohol involved. "He was killed, the two others walked away without a scratch, and I broke my back and was paralyzed."

When Danny was injured, Alan decided he would do all he could do to help his friend. "I would take him places, drive him around," says Alan. "Stuff I never thought I would be doing, but I didn't mind. I would help him take his wheelchair apart, get dressed, urological things … anything to make life easier."

Alan's broken neck
Three years later, Alan was vacationing in Club Med. "I was on my way to the beach and the other two buses in the group were warned not to go into the water because of a storm," explains Alan of his injury. "I went in the water and was pulled under a wave. I hit the ocean floor and heard a snap. I was underwater a little more than three minutes before my friends pulled me out. I was in spinal shock and very alert. I remembered learning from Danny's accident and told them not to move me."

On his 21st birthday, Alan underwent surgery to have two metal plates and 11 screws inserted in his C5 and C6 vertebra. "I laughed a lot and never really got upset; when I was in the ICU I tried to make the best of it. I learned that if I held my breath the alarms would go off. The nurses would run in, I would say, ‘Talk to me! I'm bored!'"

Channeling Christopher
Both Danny and Alan were friends with Christopher Reeve. They have picked up his torch, continuing to advocate for people living with paralysis.

Alan playing hockey before his injury

Alan playing hockey
before his injury

"He didn't get to finish," says Alan, who originally met Christopher at a New York Rangers hockey game not long after he was thrown from his horse in 1995, "so I'm going to finish for him. He had such little movement, but never stopped moving. He was a leader, never stopped, never gave up."

"When I think about Christopher, I think about the incredible advocate he was," says Danny. "And not just because he was so visible, but because of how bright he was. As an advocate he had brilliance and knowledge of what he was advocating, he wasn't just a movie star. Today, that's how I model myself as an advocate. It's important to not just be passionate, but really know an issue inside and out."

Making changes
In 1986, Danny, along with his family and friends, started the Daniel Heumann Fund for Spinal Cord Research to give hope when there was no hope to be found. In 2003, he founded the motivational speaking company, Heumannly Capable. He graduated from Syracuse University in 1991 and received his law degree from American University in 1998.

Alan is co-founder of the Alan T Brown Foundation to Cure Paralysis (ATBF), established in 1988. ATBF supports scientific and medical research but he is most proud of the Foundation's Peer Mentoring Program. Alan is also founder and owner of PrimeTime Public Relations & Marketing in Hollywood, Florida.

"He and I were put in chairs for a reason," says Danny. "I don't believe the man upstairs was satisfied with our lives on foot. He thought Alan and I had more potential from sitting in chairs with a broken neck and broken back."

"I have pictures of us from before, standing together," says Alan. "Now, we're sitting together and making a difference in the SCI world."

Danny Heumann playing tennis after his injury

Danny playing tennis
after his injury

Neither Danny nor Alan take their injuries sitting down. "We're game changers," explains Danny. "We change the game. Instead of being victims just lying in bed, we are in people's faces. Nobody's going to remember us for the amount of money in our bank accounts or the fancy cars we drive. People are going to remember us for the betterment of humankind."

"We had the worst circumstances with the best outlook," adds Alan.

What about healthcare?
Both men recognize the value of quality of life in the present for someone living with paralysis. "As much as I would love to walk again," says Danny, "most important to me, is to be able to have sensation again from my chest down."

Alan and his foundation, ATBF, are dedicated to "partnering with researchers that are conducting studies targeting specific problems associated with prolonged confinement to a wheelchair and paralysis."

Alan aims to provide assistance and support within the ATBF Peer Mentoring Program. "My goal is to touch one person or one family every day," explains Alan. "That is the first line of attack. When someone is hurt, I want to be in the room with them, with the family. I had three phone calls yesterday from different families just thanking me. That's touching one life a day."

Danny is involved in the development of regenerative medicine industry. "I believe that in the next 10-15 years the way medicine is today will change radically," explains Danny. "The development of the regenerative medicine industry will help keep people healthier, cure diseases, and spinal cord injury. I want to leave a legacy to my daughter, not only for spinal cord injury, but all diseases."

In June 2007, Danny's Foundation joined the Reeve Foundation. As part of the merger, Danny established the Daniel Huemann Young Scientists Fund. He, who now resides in Michigan, also became a member of the Reeve Foundation's Board of Directors.

In October 2009, Alan, who now resides in Florida, was elected to the Reeve Foundation Board of Directors focusing on the duel mission of the Foundation, Care and Cure.

Learn more
Learn more about the prevalence of paralysis in the United States.

Tell us your story
Telling your story is one way to let anyone touched by paralysis know that they are not alone. We've created a place where you can share your journey for your benefit, and the benefit of others. Your story matters. Share it!

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Adjustment to SCI (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Aging with SCI (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on SCI Autobiogs or Biogs (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on SCI Chat Rooms (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on SCI Research (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on SCI Tutorial 101 (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on SCI Videos (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Deep Vein Thrombosis (PDF)

Arkansas Spinal Cord CommissionThe mission of the Arkansas Spinal Cord Commission is to administer a statewide program to identify and meet the unique and lifelong needs of people with spinal cord disabilities in the state.

CareCure CommunityCareCure Community features a SpinalNurse bulletin board with informed comments on matters of the bowel, and all issues of paralysis.

Canadian & American Spinal Research OrganizationPromotes and supports funding research to ultimately find a cure for paralysis. Also publishes journal of latest research they fund. Call (800) 361-4004 or use the link above.

Canadian Paraplegic AssociationAssists people with spinal cord injuries and other disabilities to achieve individuality, self-reliance and full community participation. Call (613) 723-1033 or use the link above.

Craig HospitalWith funding from the US Department of Education's National Institute on Disability & Rehabilitation Research, has developed educational materials to help people with spinal cord injuries live in the community maintain their health. Topics include skin care, exercise, heart disease, weight control, alcohol abuse and conditions related to the aging body. Use the link above and click on SCI Health and Wellness.

Determined 2 HealProvides helpful information for the newly spinal cord injured.

FacingDisability.comFacing Disability is a web resource with more than 1,000 videos drawn from interviews of people with spinal cord injuries, their families, caregivers and experts. I know that this is a lot to ask, but we'd be so grateful for your help. I'm looking forward to discussing this link with you, and to answering any questions you may have.

Model Systems CentersA federally funded program of 14 specialty medical and/or rehabilitation centers across the US. The SCI Care System collects and submits acute, rehabilitation and follow-up (annual, long-term post-discharge) data on SCI patients who received care in the these centers following injury.

The Miami Project to Cure ParalysisThe Miami Project to Cure Paralysis has studied functional electrical systems for exercise.

The National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center (NSCISC)NSCISC supervises and directs the collection, management and analysis of the world's largest spinal cord injury database. Headquartered at the University of Alabama, Birmingham.

National Spinal Cord Injury Association (NSCIA)At NSCIA, we educate and empower survivors of spinal cord injury and disease to achieve and maintain the highest levels of independence, health and personal fulfillment. We fulfill this mission by providing an innovative Peer Support Network and by raising awareness about spinal cord injury and disease through education.

New York Online Access to Health (N.O.A.H)Offers information and links related to spinal cord and head injury treatment, rehabilitation, and children. Materials in Spanish.

Neuroscience for KidsOffers an understandable look at the segments of the spinal cord; from University of Washington.

Paralyzed Veterans of America, in support of The Consortium for Spinal Cord Medicine, offers authoritative clinical practice guidelines for bladder management. Consumer guides are available to download.

SpineUniverseAt SpineUniverse our goal is to help patients and their families understand their back or neck problems. In clear, straightforward language we aim to explain what causes spinal problems and how they can be treated. We are committed to ensure that all of the information we present is trustworthy and of the highest quality.

Spinal Cord Injury Information NetworkThe Spinal Cord Injury Information Center features clinical information about bowel management and all other medical issues of paralysis.

United Spinal AssociationOur mission is to improve the quality of life of all Americans living with spinal cord injuries and disorders (SCI/D), including multiple sclerosis, spina bifida, Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS), and post polio.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Fact Sheet: VA and Spinal Cord InjuryOf the more than 250,000 Americans with serious spinal cord injuries and disorders, about 42,000 are veterans eligible for medical care and other benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Paralysis Resource Center The Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center Information Specialists are reachable business weekdays, Monday through Friday, toll-free at 800-539-7309 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm ET. You may also schedule a call or send a message online.

Reeve Foundation Online Paralysis Community Connecting people living with paralysis, families, friends and caregivers so we can share support, experience, knowledge, and hope.

Quality of Life Grants DatabaseFind resources within the PRC Quality of Life Grants Database. Search by Zip Code, State or an Entire Category.

Library Books and VideosFind resources within the PRC library catalog.

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The Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center Information Specialists are reachable business weekdays, Monday through Friday, toll-free at 800-539-7309 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Eastern U.S. Time. International callers use 973-467-8270. You may also schedule a call or send a message online.

This project was supported, in part by grant number 90PR3001, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects under government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official Administration for Community Living policy.