Funding is a start

I have a vivid imagination, so bear with me. The other day I was walking down the sidewalk and had this strong […]

I have a vivid imagination, so bear with me. The other day I was walking down the sidewalk and had this strong sense that the sidewalk was going to give way under my feet. I smiled at myself for thinking that it’s just my winter weight talking to my subconscious. Then I realized that for five years I’ve been feeling the weight of passing a state initiative to fund medical innovations for the treatment of paralysis. But as I walked to my car, I smiled at myself again because it’s not a weight I’ve carried alone. I believe the sidewalks are safe.

I first met with Sen. Jeff Hayden (DFL – Minneapolis) five years ago this past April to ask if he would author a bill to fund spinal cord injury research directed toward curative therapies. Back then I was pretty green for a budding activist, translated as naively optimistic. I was convinced that everyone I came into contact with would see the indefensible logic of investing a little money into this critically underfunded area of medical research. Needless to say I didn’t stay green for long.

Five years later, we passed a bill that establishes a spinal cord injury/traumatic brain injury research grant program that will seed research projects working toward the functional improvement of these injuries. The $1 million allocation is quite a bit less than the $16 million that we asked for. But it‘s a starting point that will not only direct funds to critical research projects, and also give our community a voice in what projects reflect our priorities.

This is so very important because the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has reduced grants to spinal cord injury research from $94 million in 2013 to $81 million in 2015. That may seem like a lot of money to Jane Q. Public, but I would remind you that HIV/AIDS spending (which affects the same number of people as spinal cord injury) through the NIH will be $3 billion in 2015.

You may have noticed I wrote that “I met with Sen. Hayden” and that “we passed a bill.” And this brings me back to my vivid imagination and the would-be crumbling sidewalk under my feet. Yes, I brought an idea (that was not my own but passed on by other passionate advocates) to the legislature, but it was WE who passed it. I would not have gotten very far without the passion and commitment of the spinal cord injury community who began to make this cause their own: Rob and Billy, Thomas and Joe, Kelsey and Lynne, Luann and Joey, Jenni and Jay, Todd and many, many others who came to the capitol, testified, wrote emails and made calls.

Much can be accomplished when WE imagine it.

-Matthew Roderick is executive director of the Get Up Stand Up 2 Cure Paralysis Foundation. He became involved after his son Gabe was paralyzed.