A former soccer captain from St. Albans School and a running back from Texas Christian University, both paralyzed as a result of spinal cord injuries, implored a House subcommittee yesterday to approve a $16 million appropriation for research into spinal cord regeneration.
"Just trying to move drained me more than running any wind sprints ever had," Donny McKnew, former St. Albans goaltender, said of the mounths following his February 1978 auto accident that crushed two vertebrae in his back.
"To be spinal cord injured means much more than simply being unable to walk," said former TCU running back Kent Waldrep. "Depending upon the level of injury, everday functions the able-bodied person takes for granted become monumental tasks."
McKnew and Waldrep tetified yesterday before the House Subcommittee on Health and the Environment. The bill they favor is sponsored by Rep. Doug. Walgren (D-Pa.). It would authorize $16 million annually for research into ways to overcome paralysis brought on by spinal cord injuries.
More than 1 million Americans suffer varying degrees of paralysis as a result of spinal cord injuries, the subcommittee was told, and the list grows by about 30,000 each year. Automobile accidents and sports-related injuries lead the list of causes of these injuries. More than 90 percent of the injured are between the ages of 16 and 35.
Each year the government spends $3 billion for a varity of support services for the spinal cord injured, such as special equipment and vocational rehabilitation, but only a nominal amount on research to overcome paralysis.
McKnew, a former all-metropolitan goalkeeper at St. Albans, No. 1 singles player on the school's tennis team and sports editor for the school newspaper, has just finished his freshman year at Yale, the first wheelchairbound undergraduate to attend the university.
"What occupies my thought and energies most are not bitterness or sadness over my absence on the Yale tennis or soccer teams, although they are there, but the hurdles of day-to-day life." McKnew said.
After his accident, McKnew went through almost a year of painful rehabilitative therapy in which the slightest movement of a finger or toe became a major goal to attain. He has regained limited use of his hands. He said he has refused to accept the warnings of doctors and social workers that he will never walk again.
Waldrep was paralyzed on Oct. 26, 1974, in a football game between Tcu and Alabama at Birmingham. On a sweep around right end, he was hit by four Alabama defenders causing severe injury to his spinal cord.
Although still confined to a wheelchair, Waldrep has gradually regained limited movement of his hands, a sense of feeling from his chest to toes and bladder control. His partial recovery, he said was aided by two months of highly specialized therapy at Leningrad's Polenov Neurological Institute -- a trip that triggered a stir of controversy in the American medical community.
"In a matter of seconds, years of physical conditioning that had rewarded me with a muscular 6-foot 190-pound frame seemed all but useless as my body reacted to the trauma caused by my bruised spinal cord," Waldrep said.
"With spinal cord injury, it has been a case of billions every fiscal year spent on accommodiation while only a few million are allocated for research aimed at a cure. The savings in terms of both human suffering and and economic loss surely substantiate a more concerted effort," he said.