Being the first to heroically and courageously volunteer for the trial, many feared TJ would be devastated and give up hope that a cure for his condition was possible. It was indeed a time of uncertainty for the twenty-two-year-old, considering he had been told the only reason the trial would be placed on hold was if a serious adverse event occurred with any of the patients injected with the cells.
However, in keeping with his belief that everything happens for a reason, TJ prayed this was a temporary setback, and felt certain another company would pick up where Geron had left off. "Once you've been through what I have (being paralyzed at the age of twenty-one), you can deal with just about anything - even the challenge of waiting for a clinical trial to resume," he stated. "I've learned to take everything in stride."
There are now five patients enrolled in the GRNOPC1 trial, the latest participant agreed to the procedure even knowing the biotech company would soon discontinue further developments of it's stem cell programs and focus solely on their novel cancer program.
Just two days before Geron's Press Release, TJ and Senator Marc Keahey (D-AL) met with close friend and patient advocate Roman Reed to discuss the importance of funding for spinal cord injury research in America. TJ knew if the treatment posed no safety risks to humans, then it must be funding that led to Geron's decision to halt the trial.
Without hesitation, TJ picked up his phone and dialed Roman's number - it was this moment when he took ownership of being the first human candidate for hESC therapy. He went from being a participant to becomming a leading patient advocate for stem cell research.
Nov. 19, 2011, TJ (first player from left) posing with his team, the Univ. of Southern Mississippi TLC Golden Eagles, in Gulfport, MS. The Golden Eagles defeated New Orleans with a final score of 43-38.
As I looked on, I couldn't help but think how incredibly strong TJ and his mission had become. Many of you reading will agree that stories of inspiration usually include a remarkable twist - a moment when the main character experiences a life-changing event and becomes a stronger person for it. For TJ Atchison, the events of November 14, 2011 certainly pushed him in a direction he never imagined.
Looking ahead to 2012, he is very excited to begin this new chapter in his life. He asks that you keep a close eye on Head in the Clouds, because your participation is necessary to make this a success!
In closing, I'd like to add that during this time of Thanksgiving, let's be thankful for all that we have - health, family, friends - and give of our time and energy to help the paralyzed back to health and on their feet in 2012. Much love, Tory