03.11.05 Point Of Views: The Sea Inside & Million Dollar Baby

Controversial films misrepresent paralyzed Americans
By Chaz Southard/ Sitting In
Friday, March 11, 2005

The popular and controversial movies, "Million-Dollar Baby" and "The Sea Inside," deal with right to life issues for people who suffer from a catastrophic spinal cord injury. As a newly injured quadriplegic, I feel these films seriously overlook many of the current scientific advancements that prove that there is realistic hope to "cure" paralysis. How can major movie makers get away with the not so subtle message that it is better to be dead than to live with a spinal cord injury? The answer is that they could, until now, because the spinal cord injured have been the "silent and invisible minority."

     Compassionate America, I write to you as a member of that "silent and invisible minority".

     Unlike most minorities, we were not brought together by socio-economic, religious or ethnic factors. Instead, our minority is formed by only one common denominator - a catastrophic injury. An injury can affect anyone, at any time, regardless of wealth, race, or age.

     We, the "silent and invisible minority," are so invisible that the U.S. government does not even have an accurate census on the number of people living with a catastrophic spinal cord injury (SCI). It is estimated that there are between 250,000 and 500,000 of us just in the United States. These numbers are hard to validate without any strict protocol for census. In other words, no one feels that we are important enough to count. We are truly a forgotten population.

Our realities

     People commonly think that paralysis is just loss of movement and feeling; in fact, there are secondary complications that are just as painful and embarrassing. I don't need to go into what we go through just to use the bathroom, dress or bathe. These are not topics that this writer, or you the reader, are comfortable with but they are facts of life for that keep us in our homes and out of sight.

     In addition, spinal cord injured Americans are also frequently plagued with chronic nerve pain, muscle spasms, urinary tract infections, and weakened immune systems. The loss of physical movement also leads to a decrease in blood circulation, osteoporosis, and an inflated risk of diabetes, skin sores, pneumonia, obesity and cancer. Expensive prescriptions, frequent hospitalizations, rehabilitation and other medical necessities lead to an enormous financial burden and poverty level conditions. With all of the mentioned maladies how would you expect us to have the time or energy to fight for our selves?

     We have also been quieted by the death of our spokesman, Christopher Reeve. We are silenced even more by Washington legislators who refuse to pass the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Act (CRPA), #S1010, a bi-partisan co-sponsored bill to raise awareness and research for our plight. Every day it is not supported is another day we remain in pain and imprisoned.

Give us a voice!

     In 2005, the need for public support has never been greater. There have been significant scientific breakthroughs in animal studies, and many of these advances will be soon brought into human clinical trial, but unfortunately not in the United States.

   Dr. Wise Young, chairman of the Department of Cell Biology and Neuroscience at Rutgers University is working in conjunction with the University of Hong Kong to form the first human clinical trial network. According to Dr. Young, "The China SCI Network will become the largest spinal cord injury clinical trial network in the world, and will move research forward at a pace previously not thought possible."

     This network will help to ensure safe, ethical testing that will adhere to international standards. This is happening now in China, and it is anticipated that by the end of 2006 there will be as many as 6,000 injured people having received combination therapies that have come from the laboratories of the leading SCI researchers in the world.

     The United States has continually shown great compassion and social conscience, most recently demonstrated by aiding victims of the tsunami. Throughout history, our country has shown moral consciousness and has come to the aid of the downtrodden and poor.

     I ask America to help us, the poor, the silent, the injured, and the invisible minority, to achieve a voice. Please support us as we begin to lay a historic path to "cure" paralysis for today's Americans and for future generations. Curing paralysis will save billions in our health care system and in insurance costs, a savings to everyone. Please help us achieve social justice by telling your legislators to support the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Act (CRPA).

     Currently, there are 9,000 of us that communicate daily through the online forum www.sciwire.com, established by Dr. Wise Young. We are the injured as well as the caretakers, moms, dads, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, and friends. Our grassroots movement has begun, and we are now distributing our own blue awareness bracelets that say "CURE SCI - FIGHT WITH COURAGE." These bracelets are being produced and distributed by two fellow injured cure-activists and can be purchased through the Web site www.SCIWalker.com.

     We are rallying and marching in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, April 12 with hopes of gathering national bipartisan support for the passage of the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Act and funding to support human clinical trials here in the United States. As the most medically advanced country in the world, the United States could and should take advantage of the historic discoveries in the laboratories and be known as the country that cured paralysis.

     We need your support, not the pessimism and "no hope" message that "Million Dollar Baby" and "The Sea Inside" portray.

     More information on the April 12 march in Washington, D.C. can be found at www.cureparalysisnow.org


( Chaz Southard can be reached via his Web site at www.ChazSouthard.org )

Posted with permission from the author