What Paralysis Costs You -- And Why California's AB 714 Must Pass

Paralysis costs every Californian $131.57 -- and that is not to cure anybody, just to pay the medical bills.

How much does paralysis cost you in your state? You can easily figure it out.

According to the latest major survey, 5.6 million Americans are paralyzed -- 1.9 per cent of the population in 2008 when the survey was taken -- almost one person in 50.

To know roughly how many people in your state are paralyzed, just figure two percent of the population.

My home state of California has a population of 38 million. Two percent of 38 million is 760,000 paralyzed people.

How much does it cost to meet their medical needs?

We cannot say exactly, because there are many kinds of paralysis. But here are four major causes of paralysis, and what they will cost a person over his or her life time.

1. Traumatic brain injury costs roughly $4.2 million for a patient over his or lifetime.

2. Multiple sclerosis sufferers face lifetime costs of about $1.2 million each.

3. Spinal cord injury costs can run as high as $5 million, or more.

4. Stroke is the cheapest ($228,030) -- but those are in 1990 dollars, so it is more.

Want a staggering statistic? If California's paralyzed citizens (760,000) faced lifetime costs of half a million dollars each, the total lifetime cost to the state would be $380 billion -- quadruple the cost of the entire state budget, which was $92.1 billion last year!

Fortunately, those are lifetime costs, not annual.

But it is still a mountain of money. Estimate the annual costs by spreading $380 billion over an average life span of 70 years, and we come up with a cost of roughly $5 billion a year -- or $137.57 per person -- every year.

Naturally, the costs are not spread equally. The paralyzed people and their insurance policies pay as much they can. But few people are rich enough or have enough insurance to handle such costs, so they turn to government for help: tax payer programs like MediCal, Medicare, etc.

In large ways or small, everybody pays for paralysis.

Is not cure a better way? Even a partial cure is hugely helpful.

As one expert put it:

"Even a modest treatment... could save $770,000 over the lifetime of one [spinal cord injured] patient ... an effective therapeutic has the potential to not only impact quality-of-life and independence of [the] patients, but also reduce the shared costs of health care and loss of productive employment." -- Aileen Anderson, Director, Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation SCI Core

Example: When my son Roman Reed was first paralyzed, he had no triceps function at all. He could not straighten out his arms, and the doctors gave him no hopes of recovery.

But when we put Roman through major rehabilitation aided by the most advanced medication available, his triceps control returned. Today he can bench press 225.

Why does that matter? Because that improvement lets him push with his arms and help get himself out of bed in the morning, instead of needing a mechanical hoist; he can drive an adapted vehicle, instead of needing a driver. These are expenses neither he nor the taxpayer has to pay, because cure medication and directed exercise brought back a measure of independence.

Cure medication and directed exercise are key ingredients of the Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research Act -- which is exactly AB 714 would fund.

Assembly Bill 714 (Wieckowski, D-Fremont) is being considered in Sacramento right now. If it succeeds, $2 million a year will be set aside for research attempting to cure paralysis: restoring funding to the Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research Act.

Until its funding was removed two years ago for budgetary reasons, the program had been an overwhelming success in every respect.

Because AB 714 is currently facing the Appropriations Committee, which deals with the financial aspects, consider what this bill means in terms of money.

As a financial investment, "Roman's Law" has been astonishing.

How many programs, public or private, return five times their investment?

Since it began in 2000, the Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research Act has spent a total $15.1 million. This funded "seed grants" to scientists. When their work succeeded, they had crucial preliminary data to help them apply for larger grants.

Our researchers were so successful that the Federal government rewarded them with more than $84 million in larger grants from the National Institutes of Health and other sources -- new money coming into the state.

How else can we judge success? Maybe by increased business opportunity: like two new patents pending, and two new companies springing up. One scientist, Edwin Monuki, came up with a new petri dish, essentially unchanged since its invention in 1887. Monuki made a new cell-sorting device, palm-sized, replacing an expensive cell-sorter big as a room. Our research enhances biomedicine, a foundational industry for the state.

Research knowledge developed in California is available to every English-reading scientist in the world. The 175 peer-reviewed published scientific papers are each a piece of the puzzle of cure, sharing what succeeds, and (importantly) what fails: so time and money are not wasted.

Want to help bring cure to paralysis -- and multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injury, stroke, and other neurological disorders?

Support AB 714: restore funding to the Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research Act.

This coming Thursday, May 23rd, the Appropriations Committee will decide. It will be a straight up or down vote; no patient advocates allowed to speak. Of course, Roman and I will be there in the audience, and we will let you know what happens.

I ask your assistance. Help us end paralysis in our lifetime.

Please write a short note (email is great; fax is better) to the Chair of the Appropriations Committee, Mike Gatto. On his decision, the bill will go forward, or die.

Your email need not say much, just that you support AB 714, to restore funding to the Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research Act. But please send that message today.

Here is the address.

Fax: (916) 319-2143

Email: Assemblymember.Gatto@asm.ca.gov.

On behalf of America's 5.6 million citizens in wheelchairs and hospital beds, thank you.