I watched this interesting doc on BBC2 last night and found it rather thought provoking. It followed the experiences of 3 different people looking into stem cell research and the possibilities it may hold for improving or even curing neurological, cardiac, genetic and muscular conditions. I didn't learn much more than I already knew; as a paraplegic I'm kept up to date with most scientific advances in this field through the Spinal Research Trust.
However I did question my own desire (or lack thereof) to walk again....Most people are always surprised to learn that if I had one wish, I'm not entirely sure it would be to walk again; it's not a guarantee of happiness and fulfilment.
Don't get me wrong, if there was a proven cure I wouldn't turn it down and of course there are dozens of things I'd love to do given half the chance; walking through the surf on the beach feeling the sand slip through my toes, jump and splash about in puddles, leapfrog over a bollard, try out kickboxing, tap dance again, maybe go for the Irish dancing lessons I turned my nose up at as a child, cycle through the countryside, slow dance with a gorgeous partner, learn the Argentinian tango, ice skate at Somerset House or the Rockerfeller Plaza, run up 26 of flights of stairs just because I can. Oooh and do some cartwheels of course!
In the first year after my accident, the doctors never said that I wouldn't walk again, just that "it was highly unlikely that voluntary movement would return". I had regained quite a lot of sensation below my level of injury (T2) and was hopeful that movement might return but acutely aware that it probably wouldn't. I focussed on the physical rehabiliation that was going to enable me to live an independent life and carry on with being a teenage girl.
I knew about the work being done by the Spinal Research Trust and had faith that scientists and neurologists were working towards one day finding a cure, so that a complete spinal cord injury may not necessarily mean life in a wheelchair. I was 14 and thought that even if it took them 20 years to find a successful treatment, I would still only be 34 and young enough to appreciate 30+ years of movement. So I got on with life and didn't think much about it, read the updates from Spinal Research, discussed any developments with my spinal consultant during my annual check ups at Stoke Mandeville, but didn't feel the urge to chase theories and cures.
Like anyone else I feel hopeful when medical journals publicise some new breakthrough and I was delighted when President Obama changed the US stance on embryonic stem cell research, but somewhere along the way I stopped imagining myself benefiting from any developments, but was just pleased for the hope they would offer other people.
It wasn't a conscious decision, as I grew older my priorities changed, I was enjoying my life and all it was offering me and a cure mattered less. I also knew that any treatments would initially be most effective in the recently injured; my injury was getting older and my neurons would be less receptive to the potential treatments. It does sting a little to realise that nearly 20 years have passed since my injury, and I'm no nearer that cartwheel. Where did all that time go?? I can't deny that for a millisecond I thought would I have been more fortunate to have been injured in 2010 rather than 1990, but as yet we don't have time machines so it is irrelevant!
So as I watched last night, I initially felt sympathy for those chasing the dream of a cure, I was secure in my position of acceptance, wasn't I? Well yes, that was until the last 15 mins when Sophie was speaking with Dr Hans Kierstead at the Reeve Irvine Research Centre in California, he said he believed not only was a cure achievable, but it was a treatment with the potential to be effective 10 & 20 years post injury. At that point I realised I had tears rolling down my face...
As I said previously, I mistakenly started watching with sympathy for the individuals chasing their dream, but I ended with admiration for their bravery and passion for chasing the dream that somewhere along the way I became disillusioned with. But their pursuit and Dr Kierstead's words have re ignited a spark of hope for me and possibly millions of other people who would benefit from advancements in stem cell research.
Love & laughter