Paralyzed man leads charge for healthcare reform

Special to The Miami Herald
In pushing through the adversity of everyday life, Alan T. Brown wants to call attention to himself and more than a million others who live with spinal cord injuries.

His aim is to raise awareness of the prevalence of the condition and, ultimately, foster health reform.

His life changed forever on Jan. 2, 1988, when a simple act of floating in the surf in Martinique took a horrible turn. The undertow flipped the then-20-year-old over, smashing his head into the hard sand and leaving him paralyzed.

''Your life changes in one second,'' said Brown, now 42 and a quadriplegic confined to a wheelchair.

''Your life changes the second you break your neck,'' said Brown, a Hollywood resident. ``And there is no road map.''

Since then, each day has been a new challenge for Brown, who is now married and has two sons. Medically, he has undergone six surgeries and has had nine screws and six plates inserted to fuse his head to his neck.

Financially, the cost of wheelchairs, healthcare and adapters for automobiles and other needs can be devastating.

''People don't realize, I don't wake up to an alarm clock every day. I wake up to a nurse,'' Brown said, adding that visiting-nurse expenses are not reimbursed by his private insurance policy, and are paid out of pocket.

According to a recent study initiated by the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, about 1.3 Americans live with spinal cord injuries, a number five times higher than earlier estimated.

The study also found that six million people live with some sort of paralysis, which includes conditions such as stroke, cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis.

''You are talking about a large population that was under-noticed,'' said Brown who stays active by working out at a gym and scuba diving.

His plan is to increase awareness and spur better funding for services and medical equipment necessary for everyday life. Brown said his insurance reimbursement for such necessities has decreased considerably over the years.

''I plan on doing whatever I have to do to let people know what we are going through and we need to get some help,'' Brown said. He said that includes a lack of insurance, services and community awareness.

Brown, who owns PrimeTime Public Relations & Marketing in Hollywood, has made frequent treks to Washington, D.C., where he has given a speech at a Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation event, attended media programs to discuss issues, and visited amputee veterans at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

He has launched the Alan T. Brown Foundation to Cure Paralysis, originally to find a cure, but now he said he has changed direction to focus on quality of life.

''It's getting harder and harder to live. I know the economy is bad, but this isn't the economy, this is our life,'' Brown said. ``We need to start coming together and organizing to get people to make a difference.''


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