In 1985, linebacker Marc Buoniconti of the Citadel — and son of NFL Hall of Fame linebacker Nick Buoniconti — suffered a spinal cord injury after colliding with running back Herman Jacobs of East Tennessee State.
It was an accident that would leave Buoniconti paralyzed from the neck down for the rest of his life — prohibiting him from playing football ever again and inspiring the founding of the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis.
"[Sitting by his son's side], Nick said to Dr. [Barth A.] Green, 'You and I may not be able to help my son, but what can we do to help other families?'" says Kristin Wherry, director of national chapters for the Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis, the fundraising arm of the Miami Project.
In 2012, the Miami Project, the same institution that treated Gloria Estefan after her bus accident in 1990, received FDA approval to perform clinical trials on humans.
The Miami Project was given the green light to perform, among other trials, Schwann cell transplantation surgery, a procedure in which the main cells of the peripheral nervous system are taken from one part of the body and implanted into the injured spinal cord, in patients with both acute and chronic spinal cord injuries.
"We started with FDA approval for newly injured patients, which carried very specific protocol," Wherry explains. "Last year, we received approval for chronic injuries and in September 2015 started working with chronic patients."
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While the Miami Project is the world's hub for spinal cord and brain trauma injury research, the Buoniconti Fund is the organization responsible for raising funds and making that research possible. With 15 chapters nationwide, the fund has raised more than $400 million since its inception in 1992.
Run by volunteers, the organization is responsible for putting together fundraising events, much like the Miami Chapter's upcoming Seventh-Annual Block Party. Going down this Saturday at Hillstone in Coral Gables, the fest will be hosted by NBC's Adam Kuperstein and will feature music from local rock group People You Know.
"Yes, we want to raise funds and awareness for what the Miami Project is doing as far as research, but the Buoniconti Fund hosts the Block Party to reinforce that we are part of the community," Wherry explains. "The Buoniconti Fund really strives to establish and maintain that community partnership. We want to provide something that's fun and exciting."
The Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis' Seventh-Annual Block Party with People You Know. 9 p.m. Saturday, January 16, at Hillstone, 201 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables; 305-521-0141; hillstone.com. Tickets cost $50 via thebuonicontifund.com/miami or $60 at the door. Tickets for kids ages 5 to 18 cost $15, and children under 5 get in free.