Lauren Verlizzo

It was the summer of 2002 and having recently earned a Master’s degree, I was pursuing a career in teaching, spending weekends at the beach, and generally enjoying the type of freedom that seems to only come with being in your early twenties. But as anyone who has suffered a spinal cord injury understands, it takes less than five seconds to completely derail your freedom. I was a passenger in a car involved in a collision which rendered me an incomplete quadriplegic with a fracture at the 5th and 6th cervical vertebrae. I was brought to a local emergency room, stabilized, transferred to another hospital where a neurosurgeon performed a vertebral fusion, placed a bone graft, and predicted that I had less than a ten percent chance of ever walking again, all in the space of 24 hours. Ten days later, I was transported by ambulance to Helen Hayes Hospital, a rehabilitation hospital in West Haverstraw, NY, where I spent six months as an inpatient.

My brother, David, learned of the ATBF through a co-worker and called Fran Brown immediately. Thankfully, she helped my family sort out crucial decisions about my care and provided information about rehab. The relationship did not end there; David spearheaded a fundraiser for the ATBF and rather than give guests typical favors, both he and my close friend donated money to the Foundation at each of their weddings (a huge hit). In addition, I’ve discussed my experience with several young people whose families’ turned to Fran with the same fears and questions mine did. I hope to work again with the ATBF to give back some of what it has given me.

My times at Helen Hayes sent me on a journey of wellness and hope that taught me to refuse to give up. It was where I learned to walk (my crutches and I beat the heck out of those 10% odds!) and, years later, participated in an experimental research study to control spasticity. I performed so well and gained such a profound interest in this research that I was offered a position in the Translational Neurological Research Laboratory. It’s quite a departure from what I set out to do in 2002, but under the patient guidance of Dr. Aiko Thompson, I’m incorporating my longstanding interests with my newfound one in science (which can get a bit tricky to a girl who’s more at home talking about literature than locomotion). My goal is to share the potential of neurological research to help improve the lives of people affected by SCI, people like us!