Stand Up for Those Who Can’t

Life After Paralysis
By Jacqueline Hantgan
August 04, 2020

My “Superman” always was and continues to be my father.

My dad, now 78, has been living with a spinal cord injury (SCI) since 2001. Life has changed for all of us in big ways and in small ways. You can’t plan for the change nor know its impact.

My dad was the poster child of the rehabilitation center in New York City, where he remained for weeks after his injury, regaining strength, and the use of his legs. He sustained a C6-7 injury, which allowed him to use his legs. His effort and determination were always defining elements in my life. Unwavering and resourceful, he showed me through his actions the skills that have always guided me, the same skills that supported him in his recovery.

But it has not been smooth or easy. In many ways, it is very different from the early days post-injury. My dad is now a wheelchair user, and while he doesn’t complain, it’s hard (COVID-19 isolates him, like so many others, even more).

How has my dad’s experience and injury impacted my life? In some surprising ways, changes have brought inspiration and a different motivation. I would never wish this experience on anyone, but through it, we have all grown.

My dad has always been an optimist and a whole lot of fun. He loves good music: Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, and Nina Simone. He has always taught me to look on the bright side of life. He reminds me to remain open to opportunities wherever I might find them.

I found one of those opportunities in 2004 while I was living in Northern California. Through a mutual friend, I connected with a visionary leader, Bob Klein, who created a voter Initiative to help find cures, therapies, and treatments for millions of people living with chronic disease and injury. The Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation was part of the Initiative from the very beginning. Proposition 71 – The Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative – has provided over three billion dollars in funding for stem cell research and has already made significant progress in medical discoveries. Now we are working together on a new Initiative, Proposition 14 will be on the ballot Nov. 3, 2020, and will provide additional funding for this vital work. We are thankful to have continued support from the Reeve Foundation.

I am honored to be in the company of forward-thinking advocates and organizations, like the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, seeking to advance stem cell research. We could not have done it in 2004 without the support of Christopher and Dana themselves – Christopher even participated in a TV ad in support of the Initiative.

I continue to be inspired by my father and so many others to make a difference in this world. I turned 50 last week, and as part of my celebration of this milestone and in honor of my dad, I committed myself to run NYC’s 50th marathon on TEAM REEVE. While it was disappointing to hear of the change in plans for the 2020 marathon, I am confident that we will be together on the streets of New York in 2021. I will proudly wear my TEAM REEVE jersey and run and run and run. In the words of Christopher Reeve used when he advocated for stem cell research, “stand up for those who can’t.”

Jacqueline Hantgan, a native New Yorker, is a patient advocate and staff member on YES on 14: Californians for Stem Cell Research, Treatments, and Cures.

Jacqueline graduated from Tulane University with a BA in Anthropology. She continued her studies at Teachers College Columbia University with a Masters in Education and Anthropology. She is currently a student at the Pepperdine Caruso School of Law, pursuing a degree in Alternative Dispute Resolution. Jacqueline and her husband live in LA and have three great daughters.