Last week DLP was out shooting another inspiring piece as part of the Buick: Human Highlight Reel series (link to previous Buick post). After earlier pieces took us to Pennsylvania, Alabama, and Washington, this one sent us to Miami to sit down with Marc Buoniconti and learn about the tremendous advancements he’s championed in the cause to find a cure for paralysis.
We’re editing the piece right now and it'll begin airing in March. Check back on this post in March for an update with the video of the finished product.
A Promising Career
For Marc Buoniconti growing up as the son of an NFL great and future Hall of Famer, football was his passion. Like his father Nick, Marc’s gridiron abilities earned him college scholarship opportunities. Marc ultimately became a starting linebacker at the Citadel. Although undersized, Marc entertained dreams of playing in the NFL. Those NFL dreams were supported by the opinions of numerous coaches that thought he could make an impact in the pros.
Marc’s NFL dreams were forever sidelined on October 25, 1985. A seemingly routine gameday followed a week in which Marc had missed practice with neck soreness, but felt fine to play by the time Saturday rolled around. On a key 3rd & 1, Marc went to make a tackle on East Tennessee State running back Herman Jacobs, his head slamming into Jacobs’ back. The impact severed Marc’s C3 and C4 vertebrae, rendering him an immediate quadriplegic and nearly killing him instantly. Marc was rushed to a local hospital, surviving only because of a ventilator that proved necessary to sustain him for the next seven months.
While struggling to recover in the hospital, Marc began to feel hopeless. He refused to see visitors and lost nearly a hundred pounds. In the hospital Marc went through all the stages of grief except for the final one that involves acceptance.
Ultimately his desire to make a difference stemmed from his refusal to accept th fact that he’d likely never walk again. That challenge gave him the strength he needed to emerge from a year-long bout with depression. Marc made a conscious decision that he wasn’t just fighting for his own life, he was going to fight for others going through the same physical and emotional challenges. It was around this time that Marc, his father Nick, and his neurosurgeon Dr. Barth Green committed to devoting their lives to finding a cure for paralysis.
Launching the Miami Project
Marc and his father Nick helped raise $2 million in the first year of their upstart Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, an organization established to cure paralysis. Some people thought they were crazy to take on such an enormous challenge, but through their persistence others began to buy in.
Financial backing grew through a combination of Nick’s sports and business connections, and Marc’s tireless advocacy. As a result the Miami Project quickly became what its three founders had envisioned, the world's finest research center for the treatment of paralysis. Today the organization has raised more than $300 million and employs over than 250 doctors, researchers, and support staff to battle this crippling condition.
Advances and Success Stories
Back in 1985, the typical lifespan for someone who had suffered a catastrophic spinal cord injury (like Marc’s) was just a few years. Thanks in large part to the Miami Project the 300,000 Americans currently living with severe spinal cord injuries can expect a much better outlook.
In 2007, a pioneering hypothermia treatment created by the Miami Project was used to treat Buffalo Bills player Kevin Everett as he was rushed to a hospital with fractures to his C3 and C4 vertebrae – the same injury Marc had suffered. Today, Everett is able to walk under his own power and has full control of his limbs, a fact doctors credit entirely to the revolutionary hypothermia procedure. It’s a minor miracle made possible by more than 20 years of hard work and research.
A Third Life
Today it still takes Marc three hours just to get out of bed, but that doesn’t stop him from tirelessly working fundraisers from his breath-powered wheelchair. As president of the Miami Project, he is involved in every facet of its continued success.
Marc thinks of himself as having lived multiple lives. There’s his life before the injury, a second life after, and even a third when he sleeps and dreams of running, jumping, and even tackling. When he wakes up, the memory is still fresh in his mind. Those feelings continue to drive him every day.
12,000 Americans suffer a severe spinal cord injury every year, and knowing that he has the opportunity to change the lives of so many prevents Marc from resting. Earlier this year at a press conference organized by Marc and the Miami Project, the FDA announced that it had approved clinical trials allowing scientists to transplant Schwann cells in humans, a procedure that’s been shown to be 70% effective in treating paralysis in lab animals. This is the most significant development in the history of spinal cord research, and could lead to the elusive cure that Marc and his team have spent decades and hundreds of millions of dollars pursuing.