Best Friends Paralyzed Little More Than Two Years Apart


Pain, Bladder and Skin Issues Plague Those With Paralysis

Alan T. Brown hopes to raise $250,000 for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation.

The secondary effects of spinal cord injuries are as challenging as the mobility issues: constant pain, bowel and bladder issues, and skin problems; shoulder and back injuries from years of strain and aging in a wheelchair.

"There are so many of them," said Brown. "Care giving and the psychological are part of it -- developing your own confidence to face the world. Some people don't even want to leave their homes."

Brown's generation is the first to even survive spinal cord injuries. "There is no road map for us," he said. "In the past, if they didn't die, they were put away in a nursing home to die."

Relationships are tested; Brown said his own marriage broke up.

Since the early days of treatment at Jackson Memorial in Miami and later in outpatient therapy at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City, his humor has kept him going.

"They put me in a halo backwards and had to unscrew it and screw it back into my head," said Brown. "I laughed the entire time. I laughed every day and cried every day."

He said he learned to hold his breath so the nurses would talk to him.

Laughter has carried him through six surgeries and physical ordeals. "I am an emergency room frequent flyer," Brown jokes.

He has 11 screws and two metal plates that were inserted after his neck was rebuilt.

"Technically I'm three people," said Brown. "My head is screwed on, my body is in the middle and there is my soul."

Brown has always been a giver -- as a child growing up in a Jewish family in New York City, he used to help prepare dead bodies for burial -- "one of the biggest mitzvahs," he said.

"I was always a person who wanted to overcome, an overachiever," he said. "I wasn't a great student, but I was there by your side. I would help the elderly at Rosh Hashanah -- it's in my make-up."

While he was still bedridden and his health was touch and go, Brown asked his rabbi what he would say in a eulogy. The rabbi told Brown he had the "spirit to help others."

Today he says he leads a full life, helping to raise his two sons, Max, 15, and Sam, 10.

Brown uses a power wheelchair and has difficulty using his hands. He said he battles constant pain, but is able to get himself in and out of the chair and drives a car.

A former hockey player, Brown keeps fit. He participates in marathons in his wheelchair and has tried both scuba and sky diving.

Professionally, Brown has worked his entire life -- at public relations, recruiting NFL players for ad campaigns and even running a radio station.

"Nothing will ever stop me," said Brown, who has also begun a book.

He confesses he doesn't sleep much, especially with an eye to the fundraising campaign for the Reeve Foundation.

"There totally is hope," he said when talking about medical advances. "Cures come in different shapes and sizes. A lot of us would take just not being in pain."

Meanwhile, Brown's attitude and energy astound his colleagues.

"Alan lives with his injury day in and day out," said Howley at the Reeve Foundation. "He, better than anyone else, understands what the challenges and needs are. He is so articulate and compassionate. We are very lucky. God bless him."

For more information and to help, go to the donor page for the Alan T. Brown Power of We Campaign.

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