It was an organized effort by many to select T.J. Atchison as the first spinal cord injury patient to participate in such a landmark clinical trial. When it was time for a decision to be made by T.J. and his family, little did they consider the procedure to be as monumental as it was. After all, T.J. was a mere nursing student at the University of South Alabama trying to make his final effort to become a college graduate. He had no intention or desire to become a famous person; his only wish was to walk again.
Film crews from ABC News traveled to the small town of Chatom, Alabama last week to interview T.J. about being the first spinal cord injury patient to be injected with human embryonic stem cells. In the photo above, T.J. and Cameron Waite act more like brothers than first cousins as they play a quick game of basketball.
ABC News Correspondent, Steve Osunsami, extends a hand to Anita McDonald as she reveals what it felt like to hear the devastating news of her son's accident.
Through it all, T.J. is not interested in being some sort of hero, but if he is presented with the opportunity to help his fellow man and future sufferers of degenerative medical conditions, he believes it is his religious and ethical obligation to be an advocate for this clinical trial—and the research behind it—that may just end up giving millions of disabled people the ability to live a normal, productive life.
Little sister Alyssa enjoyed spending the afternoon with T.J. as he interviewed with Steve Osunsami from ABC News.
T.J. enjoyed a few laughs with Steve Osunsami and the film crew from ABC News.
With no hesitation whatsoever, T.J. has asked for my help to co-author his story, The Human Candidate, in effort to share his identity and perception as being the first recipient of HES cells with the world. Not only is T.J. eager to be a spokesperson for stem cell research, he feels it is his lifelong mission to help other disabled people.
Please stay tuned to Head in the Clouds, as a date for T.J.'s ABC News interview will be announced soon. Much love, Tory
*The compositions herein are not to be copied, reproduced, printed, published, posted, displayed, incorporated, stored in or scanned into a retrieval system or database, transmitted, broadcast, bartered or sold, in whole or in part without the prior express written permissions of the sole author Tory Williams. Unauthorized duplication is strictly prohibited and is an infringement of National and International Copyright Laws.
Friday, May 20, 2011
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Sunday after settling the kids in from church, I made a flying trip to Atlanta in order to meet with TJ's doctors and to obtain necessary paperwork for my research in his story The Human Candidate.
It wasn't long after arriving at the Center that I realized how busy a Monday morning was for everyone - patients filled the waiting areas and staff members rushed about their day as if seconds remained for a game-winning touchdown.
With very few vacant chairs in the lobby area and an hour to spare before my first appointment, I began wandering up and down the hallways of the Shepherd Building. It amazed me that going into my sixth visit at the rehabilitation center, I had somehow overlooked a wall filled with beautiful artwork - most were pieces painted by former patients, awards recognizing staff and administrators for different achievements, and photographs of events held throughout the Center's thirty-five year history.
A few minutes later, a security officer passed and asked if I needed help finding my way. I suppose my large duffel bag filled with notebooks and reference books was a dead ringer for not being there for medical reasons. I explained that I was waiting to interview a staff member, and mentioned that I would love to find a quite place to write. She smiled and pointed me in the direction of the Noble Learning Resource Center which was just down the hallway and to the left.
In the few steps it took to reach the library, I passed a couple standing near their son in a wheelchair and inadvertently overheard their conversation. Suddenly the memories of TJ being a patient at the facility quickly came back to me. The same determination and strength heard in this family's conversation was like rewinding six months to the time when TJ was dealing with the same uncertainty and reality of being young and disabled. With motivation like no other, and a rush of ideas stirring inside my head, I wasted no time in finding the perfect chair inside the library. I must admit, this is the most intense writing I have ever experienced, as I felt that I was no longer writing for TJ alone, but for millions of other spinal cord injury patients out there who pray each day for a cure for paralysis.
Not even a page into my writing, a volunteer at the library - Tony Boatright who is also a spinal cord injury patient - pushed his chair next to me and asked if I needed anything before he left for lunch. I smiled and shook my head no. He paused and looked at me curiously - again, the bag full of books and me intensely writing is apparently enough to raise an eyebrow - and asked what I was working on. I explained that I was writing a book about spinal cord injury patients, and immediately conversation took off. For five minutes, Tony and I chatted about the Center and the resources available there for spinal cord injury patients. He was also interested in my writing, but never once asked the topic of the book. It wasn't until a phone call early this morning that I revealed to Tony the concept behind TJ's book. Tony was very happy to hear of TJ's progress, and like many others, he was enthusiastic to learn that TJ's story is well on its way to being published.
This Dear Friends, is why I am passionate about bringing The Human Candidate to life, because I have witnessed how life-changing TJ's story is to those who hear it. Many disabled people anticipate the results of this clinical trial. They are hopeful that a cure for spinal cord injury and chronic illness will be in their lifetime. Indeed, TJ's optimism and strength has given them a reason to remain positive and upbeat about their circumstances. At the heart of it all, it is TJ's mission to help other disabled people and to encourage further support for regenerative medicine through the advancement of research and science.
Have a great week, everyone! Love, Tory
Sunday, May 8, 2011
As I've mentioned several times on my blog that I love to visit the Millry State Lake for peaceful writing time, yesterday was no exception and exactly what I needed to wind down from a busy, yet fun and eventful week. With just a few fishermen casting their lines from the shoreline, I sat at my favorite table beneath the pavilion and tossed around ideas for this Mother's Day post. After a flip through the pages of my proposal for T.J.'s story, The Human Candidate, a portion from the middle section jumped out at me and ultimately became the focus for this special post.
The photo below is a snapshot of one of my dearest friends, Anita McDonald and her family on summer vacation last year. Anita is the mother to Alyssa, age 5; Tucker age 16; and T.J. age 21. She is the wife to Carey McDonald and is the most selfless person I have ever met.
Before I share Anita's experience, I would like to say this post is dedicated to all of you mothers out there who have stood by and watched as your child has suffered from a disease or an injury. You, too, are my hero, and I admire your strength and determination to make life easier for these special kids.
An account from the day that changed Anita's life forever: September 25, 2010:
After meeting with doctors from the University of South Alabama Medical Center and learning her oldest son was completely paralyzed from the chest down, Anita took the elevator down three levels to the waiting area of the hospital in order to mentally process the upsetting news. With tears streaking down her cheeks, memories of the twenty-one years spent raising her son drifted in and out of her mind.
She was angry at first but eventually realized life would go on regardless if her son could walk or not. T.J. was the same person on the inside, and that was all that mattered to her.
A few minutes later, she returned to the elevator to break the devastating news to her father. Indeed, this was an announcement she did not want to make, but with all the other family members falling apart at the seams, this was something she had to do.
Just as the elevator doors were about to close, a young man in a wheelchair stuck his hand inside. Anita took a deep breath and watched him push himself inside the elevator. Trying her best to contain her emotions, she was unable to hold back the warm tears that filled her eyes. As if time stood still, she envisioned her son trying to go about his daily life in a wheelchair. It was a thought she could not imagine.
Anita swallowed hard once again and was able to regain her thoughts. Somehow the tears went away. Realizing this moment was no coincidence at all, she took advantage of being alone with the young man in the elevator. In almost a soft whisper, she tapped him on the shoulder and asked what led to his paralysis. He turned his head with a warm smile across his face and replied that he, too, was involved in a car accident, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down.
Anita explained T.J.’s situation and revealed the diagnosis her son had received. The young man detected the concern in her eyes, so he did his best to calm her fears by stating that many years back, he was also given the same diagnosis: doctors said he would never walk again. But with much enthusiasm, he assured Anita that he could stand and walk with assistance now. "Tell your son not to give up! Miracles happen every day,” he said to her, and in that moment she made a promise to remain hopeful and optimistic that her son would walk again. When the elevator doors opened on the third floor, Anita ran toward her husband and family with a smile on her face and a new outlook on her son’s diagnosis.
This moment led to Anita's decision to research rehabilitation centers across the United States, and ultimately began the week long process of transferring T.J. to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Georgia.
More snippets of T.J.'s story to come in the following weeks, but for now, I leave with a quote from Julie B. Beck that was posted on the overhead during church today:
"Righteous women have changed the course of history and will continue to do so, and their influence will spread and grow exponentially throughout the eternities."
Wishing a blessed and happy Mother's Day to all the women out there who give so selflessly to their children and family. Much love, Tory