Several high-profile spinal cord injury victims and some of the state’s top spinal researchers are banding together to get back millions of dollars in state funding for the New York Spinal Cord Injury Research Program that has been used to pay the state’s bills rather than spinal cord research, Gannett’s Albany Bureau and reports.
State lawmakers created the Spinal Cord Injury Research Program in 1998, an initiative that spinal cord injury victims pushed for, including the late actor Christopher Reeve and Paul Richter, a state police sergeant who was shot and paralyzed during a 1973 traffic stop. The program has funded more than $70 million in grants since then. More than 16,000 New Yorkers live with a spinal injury, according to the state Department of Health.
The research program is funded by the state’s surcharge on moving violations, which brings in about $150 million a year to the state. The annual state contribution is capped at $8.5 million. The money was swept clean by then-Gov. David Paterson and lawmakers in 1998.
“It’s heartbreaking – totally unjust to use these funds for anything other than research,” said Dr. Jason Carmel of Mamaroneck, a neuroscientist and director of the Motor Recovery Laboratory at Burke Rehabilitation Center in White Plains.
Carmel has a special reason for wanting to continue with his work on ways to restore function to people with injured central nervous systems: His identical twin brother, David, 41, was paralyzed after a 1999 diving accident.
“I want to do everything I can do to help my brother and everyone like him,” Jason Carmel said. “We can’t do it without resources.”
David Carmel, who works in the financial industry, is a leader in New Yorkers to Cure Paralysis, a coalition of patients, researchers and major hospitals formed to push Cuomo and lawmakers to restore the funds.
“We attracted the top researchers to this state with the promise of a steady source of funding,” he said. “They can’t do the research if the rug has been pulled out from under them.”
The Carmel brothers and other advocates are hoping to build off their success earlier this year, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature agreed to restore $2 million to the fund in the current budget.
(Photo of Dr. Jason Carmel of Mamaroneck, left, is working on research at Burke Rehabilitation Center that he hopes will help his twin David and others with spinal cord injuries.)