Capitol rally promotes Reeve bill

From his place on the grass on the Capitol’s west lawn, Ronald Verni watched as a bipartisan group of lawmakers spoke at a rally for the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Act (CRPA), a bill that would support an increase in research, rehabilitation and quality-of-life programs for people suffering from paralysis.

For Verni, whose daughter, Antonia, 7, suffered a spinal-cord injury similar to Reeve’s in 1999 when a drunk driver hit the family car, this rally had a special meaning.
Natalie Whitehead
Dana Reeve greets supporters yesterday at a rally for the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Act.


“Christopher Reeve’s name kept coming up during our struggle,” he said. “We feel obligated to him.”

About 250 people, half of them in wheelchairs, joined Dana Reeve, Christopher Reeve’s widow and chairwoman of the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, to lobby Congress yesterday to pass the bill.

More than 60 meetings had been scheduled with legislators to talk about the bill, said Susan Maus, a member of the steering committee for CureParalysisNow, the grassroots volunteer group that organized the event.

“This is bittersweet for us,” said Michael Manganiello, the senior vice president of government relations for the Reeve foundation. “Chris was here for the introduction” of the bill last year. Reeve died last October.

Reps. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Michael Bilirakis (R-Fla.) planned to reintroduce the legislation in the House yesterday, Brown said. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) will reintroduce it later this week in the Senate, Harkin spokeswoman Allison Dobson said.

At the rally, Harkin expressed his personal stake in the bill: his nephew has been in a wheelchair for 26 years because of a spinal-cord injury.

The bill would expand research on paralysis at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), encourage collaborative research among scientists, create a clinical trial network to measure the effectiveness of certain treatments and begin a link with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to improve the quality of life of people with paralysis, according to the foundation.

In addition, the bill pushes for the use of Veterans Health Administration facilities to “improve research by tracking data within the world’s largest system of hospitals.”

The foundation also stressed, both in the literature it distributed to legislative offices yesterday and on its website, that the bill does not “in any way shape or form, address stem cell research,” even though the foundation does support the study of stem cells.

“This bill gives us the opportunity to help people who have suffered quietly in the dark for too long,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a co-sponsor of the legislation, said at the rally.

The bill was simply eclipsed last year, Graham said in an interview. “It got wiped away by all the other issues,” he said, adding that the bill was especially important to the Senate, to give senators a united issue.

“We can talk to each other [about this bill], not about each other,” he said, adding that he planned to push the leadership to pass the bill this time around.

Brown said he and Bilirakis would be meeting with their leadership in the coming weeks about the bill.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), who uses a wheelchair as a result of a spinal-cord injury, also spoke at the rally. Last year, the bill gained 28 co-sponsors in the Senate and 69 in the House, Harkin said.

The bill last year also had the support of then-Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson and then-Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi, according to the foundation.