DURHAM, N.C. — Christopher Reeve's death focused new attention on spinal cord injury research.
Maurice Spencer is eager to turn the attention to real help for spinal cord injury patients.
Spencer was briefly paralyzed on the football field as a cornerback for the New Orleans Saints in 1982. Today, he runs a foundation to fund research and help those who still hope to walk.
Spencer's stellar football career began in Durham at North Carolina Central University and ended in his eighth year with the Saints.
"What happened was I came to make a play and when I hit, I hit forward and my linebacker hit me in the back. So I was like in the middle of a two-car crash, sort of," he said.
Spencer lost all feeling in his legs and his neck was broken.
"A compression fracture of 3, 4 and 5 of my cervical vertebra," he said.
His spinal cord was bruised. Duke surgeons fused the broken vertebra with titanium steel. Soon, Spencer was back on his feet.
"With no drug, none of the medicines that they have today. I'm a piece of work," he said.
After stints in coaching and broadcasting, Spencer turned his sights to raising money for spinal cord injury research through
The Spencer Foundation For Spinal Cord Injury and Rehabilitation
His foundation also gives grants to paralyzed athletes, such as 19-year-old Rocky Clark in Illinois.
"It was the last game of the season, last play. He had a bad injury. He's a great kid. He's a fighter," Spencer said.
A fighter like Spencer's old friend, Reeve.
"You have to have that fighter attitude and focus every day. Every day you have to get up and say, 'I'm going to work. I'm going to beat this,'" Spencer said.
Part of Reeve's fight was to help find a cure for spinal cord injuries. He pushed for lifting federal funding restrictions on embryonic stem cell research.
The debate focused more attention on finding a cure wherever it may be found.
"The most important part is people are getting educated about it," Spencer said.