May 7, 2010
The classifieds in this issue include three chief executive officer positions!
|COVERAGE OF 2010 BUS & PARATRANSIT CONFERENCE
Buoniconti Shares Insights at ‘Champion’ Forum
BY SARAH HOLLANDER, For Passenger Transport
Twenty-four years ago, Marc Buoniconti walked onto a football field the way he’d done hundreds of times before. This particular game, however, changed his life forever.
Buoniconti, a college student at The Citadel in South Carolina, went in for a tackle. He fell hard and instantly realized that something was wrong, very wrong.
At age 19, Buoniconti was paralyzed from the neck down.
“In a split second I went from the best shape of my life to fighting for my life,” he told the audience May 4 at a General Forum, “Telling the Story of a Champion,” during the APTA Bus & Paratransit Conference in Cleveland. APTA’s business members sponsored the forum.
Buoniconti’s family searched for a spinal cord injury specialist and found Dr. Barth Green. Since then, the family and Green have teamed up on The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, involving more than 250 researchers at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine.
In addition to raising money for the project, Buoniconti, a psychology graduate of the University of Miami, is an advocate for accessible transportation.
“Transportation is the cornerstone of true independence for all Americans,” he said. “The disabled community relies on accessible transportation for every major facet of their lives.”
Buoniconti was a member of a citizens’ transportation advisory group charged with overseeing use of a tax for transit projects in Miami-Dade County. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist also asked him to serve on a commission to explore ways to improve life for persons with disabilities, which included transportation.
He praised APTA members for their continued support of the Americans with Disabilities Act. “Today, and every day, let’s renew our commitment,” he said.
Millions of persons with disabilities still have trouble getting where they need to go, he said, calling for transit providers to make sure they allow for spontaneity and better coordination with other social services.
“Life brings difficulties and hardships to everyone,” he said. “But it also brings opportunities to become a positive force for change.”
Recalling his tragic accident, Buoniconti said: “One day I was a normal kid, thinking about sports, school, and girls. The next, I was an advocate for people with spinal cord injuries.”
In a video about The Miami Project, Buoniconti’s father, Hall of Fame linebacker and former Miami Dolphin Nick Buoniconti, compared the search for a cure with America’s reach for the moon four decades ago. “It’s no longer a glimmer of hope,” he said. “We have the knowledge. We have the manpower and the technology.”
Progress is ongoing and uplifting, Buoniconti said. The Miami Project is on the verge of starting human trials for a cell and drug treatment that has shown promise in animal tests, he noted: “We are confident we’ll receive permission, not in 10 years, not in five years, but this year.”
In the meantime, scientists in the project are searching for ways to improve quality of life. Research continues on everything from cell regeneration and transplantation to exercise, bladder and bowel functions, and weight resistance training, for example. Buoniconti also pointed out that scientists have discovered ways to protect the spinal cord after injury, such as lowering body temperature to preserve vital tissue.