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Sunday, September 23, 2007

They called him a quack, a wishful thinker, a glory seeker: Hypothermic cooling for Kevin Everett

On Oct. 26, 1985, 19-year old middle linebacker Marc Buoniconti suffered a severe spinal cord injury while making a tackle for his college team, Citadel. He has spent the last 22 years in a wheelchair. Two weeks ago, Buffalo Bills tight end Kevin Everett injured the same cervical vertebrae while making a tackle. Doctors say Kevin will walk soon – and he can thank Marc for it.

Marc's father is Nick Buoniconti – who had been a star as a pro football player himself. Nick decided to use his own fame to raise money for a cure. He and neurosurgeon Barth Green founded the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, the world’s largest comprehensive spinal cord injury research center. They have raised more than $200 million for research; there are now 200 scientists, doctors, and researchers under one roof.

"They called [Dr. Green] a quack, the called him a wishful thinker, a glory seeker," Marc said.

The researchers worked for years on a hypothermia cooling technique that could limit damage, if applied quickly after the trauma. They publicized their findings in a seminar by the scientific director of the Miami Project, which was attended by the team neurosurgeon for the Buffalo Bills – Dr. Andrew Cappuccino. The treatment quickly lowers the victim's body temperature to 92 degrees Fahrenheit by using an ice-cold saline solution that prevents swelling and further damage, giving drugs a better chance to work.

On Sept. 9, Kevin Everett made a helmet-first tackle in the Bills' opening game. The initial reports said he had suffered a catastrophic, life-threatening injury, and would be paralyzed permanently.

But Dr. Cappuccino had acted quickly, ordering paramedics in the ambulance to immediately start running an IV with cold saline, less than 15 minutes after the accident. This was the first time the hypothermic treatment had been used so soon after a catastrophic injury.

"The results are amazing," said Dr. Green. "And because of it, Everett will walk again."

As Marc Buoniconti commented, "I dedicated my life to raising money and awareness for getting a cure. Little did I know that the decision I made in the hospital would lead to this."

Advice to grieviously injured patients and patient advocates: Consider if there is some way you can follow the lead of Marc and his father in creating and funding an organization aimed at finding a cure for Marc's condition.

Read another hero story of a patient engineeringihis own cure, or read more from Stan Grossfeld's article in today's Boston Globe.

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