HEROES IN MY BOOK
By Don C. Reed
With apologies to famed author Jack Canfield, one way to describe my new book might be: “Chicken Soup for the Stem Cell Soul”!
A series of connected short stories, designed to inspire and empower, the actual title is “STEM CELL BATTLES: Proposition 71 and Beyond: How Ordinary People Can Fight Back Against the Crushing Burden of Chronic Disease”.
It is about the heroes of stem cell research: the scientists and advocates.
The first hero for me, of course, is my son, Roman Reed.
September 10th, 1994. I was taking notes at one of Roman’s college football games; his mother Gloria was filming. I intended to write a book about Roman’s football career.
And then, at middle linebacker, Roman dived in to make one more tackle. Above the surf-roar of shoulder pads colliding, I heard a terrible sound—like an axe handle breaking across a rock.
“Roman’s down!”, said, Gloria, “It’s bad, I saw it through the viewfinder!”
The play was whistled dead. The other players picked themselves up and ran to the sidelines. But our son stayed where he was, motionless on the chalk-lined turf.
“Don’t worry, Dad!” said Roman in the hospital, “This is only temporary…”
Today, more than two decades later, Roman is still paralyzed.
When people ask me how he is doing, I won’t lie. Paralysis is hell, I always say.
Roman himself will never complain. He remains as he was: indomitable. His unflinching attitude inspired the Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research Act, which funded research leading to paralysis therapies in human trials today, and, with Tory Williams, the nonprofit Alabama Institute of Medicine.
I tried to write a book on Roman’s struggle, and that of his family: his mother Gloria, his wife Terri, and their children: Roman Jr., Jason, and Katherine the great. All are a part of the story.
But it was not enough. For Roman to walk again, which I believe he will, the entire field of regenerative medicine must advance, amazing folks cooperating.
The cover shows Arnold Schwarzenegger as Governor of California, shaking hands with Roman, while Bob Klein and I stand in the background looking happy, which we were. That was the day Governor Schwarzenegger authorized a loan of $150 million dollars to the California stem cell program, so it could begin, despite the nagging lawsuits of the religious right. A magical day, etched in memory.
Christopher Reeve is in the book too, of course—how could it be otherwise? In 2003 I asked the paralyzed Superman to provide a foreword to my as-yet-unwritten book. With typical grace and compassion, he agreed, and it is there.
The first face you will see in the book is Bob Klein, our movement’s champion. Bob inspired and led Proposition 71, California’s $3 billion stem cell initiative, winning the support of nearly a hundred organizations, and with their help—victory. He chaired the new program’s board of directors, volunteering his services at great personal sacrifice, working without salary for the first eight years.
There is something interesting about his picture, and virtually all the 150 illustrations of scientists and patient advocates. I had been told there could be no color in the book: too expensive. But when I held the first copy in my hands, and opened it—the publishers had put in a surprise: full color throughout. It felt like that moment in the movie WIZARD OF OZ, when Dorothy steps out of black and white Kansas into Technicolor Oz.
I found my publisher because of the kindness and generosity of America’s first scientist-blogger, Paul Knoepfler. I told him I was writing a book, and would be looking for a publisher, and Paul said: “try mine !” I did, and they said yes.
Headquartered in Singapore, World Scientific Publishing is best known for the biographies of the Nobel Peace Prize winners. I am their only non-scientist author.
The book could be no more than 350 pages, said my editor, Sook Cheng Lim. But there were so many stories, so many great scientists—I kept thinking, oh, I just have to include so-and-so, their contribution is too huge! And I would send just one more chapter to Sook Cheng Lim, and she never said no… We ended up with 71 stories in 71 chapters—small coincidence there– and a 432 page book.
But there were so many more people who should have been included—each one deserving his or her own book!
I wish I could speak to all the stem cell researchers around the world, in their white lab coats, eating dinner standing up, endless hours at the lab: and to the patient advocates, organizing the millions of families who suffer chronic disease: always on the phone or at the computer, fighting for funding, protecting science from the forces of backwardness.
If I could, I would say this, to all who labor in the fields of cure:
Thank you for the efforts of your lives.
You all are heroes in my book.
“STEM CELL BATTLES: Proposition 71 and Beyond: How Ordinary People Can Fight Back Against the Crushing Burden of Chronic Disease—with a Posthumous Foreword by Christopher Reeve” can be ordered now at Amazon.com.