Filling Superman's Shoes

Brooke Ellison

Cody has some catching up to do if she is going to beat Brooke Ellison to the White House.

Ellison, 26, is currently laying the groundwork for a New York State Senate run in 2006.

"FDR is quite a role model of mine," said Ellison, who lives on Long Island, New York. Among the many issues Ellison wants to address is New York's failure to fund stem cell research. "I don't know of any quadriplegics who have been politicians, but it's safe to say it doesn't happen all too often."

When Ellison was 11, she was hit by a car while walking home from school, leaving her paralyzed from the neck down and dependent on a ventilator to breathe. That didn't stop her from receiving bachelor's and master's degrees from Harvard University, a feat chronicled in the movie "Miracles Happen," directed by Reeve shortly before his death.

Ellison bonded with Reeve through the making of the movie, and was devastated by his death.

"It's scary, there's no question about that," Ellison said. "I know full well there's nobody who can take his place in terms of his dynamism and his ability to affect change."

Reeve affected massive change in the research community.

"The Christopher Reeve Foundation has really revolutionized the approach to spinal cord research," said Dr. Doug Kerr, an assistant professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. "There were a lot of duplicated efforts and no unified themes. He (Reeve) was really ruthless in organizing groups together so there was communication."

From the mid-1990s. when Reeve was injured, to the present, scientists have made several breakthroughs in spinal cord research in the areas of axon growth, compensatory growth of uninjured neurons, preventing scar formation, replacing lost cells, redesigning rehabilitation and on the genetic level.

Kerr said that with continued funding and continued support from the politicians, more breakthroughs are imminent.

"We have yet to see the fruits of his (Reeve's) efforts, but there's no question it's coming," Kerr said.

Ellison wants to ensure scientists have continued political support, by becoming a politician herself.

"When you're in the physical situation I'm in and Chris was in, it's hard to be significantly challenged by anything else," she said. "But this is too important ... we're not just talking about research. We're talking about actual people's lives, people whose future depends so greatly on the future of this research and the perpetuation of this research. People go with needs unmet and their lives dismissed when they're not visible."

Jesse Billauer

It is impossible to miss Jesse Billauer when he rolls into a room. His attitude, and his leopard-skin wheelchair, demand attention. He has no problem standing out among movie stars, models and rockers, and that is quite often the company he keeps.

Billauer was on the verge of becoming a professional surfer when a wave threw him from his surfboard and pummeled him headfirst into a sandbar, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down, although he retains some use of his arms through the movement of his shoulders.

Eighteen percent of spinal cord injuries in the United States are a result of sports and recreation activities, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and part of the mission of Billauer's foundation, Life Rolls On, is to show the public that active lifestyles don't end after a spinal cord injury.

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