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April_vist_SRCOn the final day  of the 2012 legislative session, the hard work and determination of twenty-three year old TJ Atchison and Senator Marc Keahey (District 22) paid off when Alabama State Legislature appropriated $400,000 in research funding to the University of Alabama at Birmingham. This program is named after Atchison, a constituent of Senator Keahey's from Chatom, who sustained a spinal cord injury from a car accident in September 2010.

Since his accident and subsequent treatment, he has become a visible and vocal advocate for the furthering of Spinal Cord Injury research, successfully passing the TJ Atchison Spinal Cord Injury Research Act in Alabama. Atchison says he is driven by his strong faith in God, in addition to his overriding desire to help his fellow man. This desire led him to transfer from the University of Alabama to the University of South Alabama in order to enroll in their Nursing Program. Even before his accident, he showed a dedication to the betterment of man through medicine. His involvement in Geron's landmark stem cell clinical trial has allowed him to become a voice for change and progress in a field of medicine that holds an untold potential for cures to numerous diseases and conditions.

In 2011, after settling into his Junior year at the University of South Alabama Nursing School, TJ reached out to Senator Keahey and asked for his help in raising awareness and funding for spinal cord injury research. TJ and Senator Keahey rallied the support of patient advocate Roman Reed of California, who has raised millions of dollars for spinal cord research in his home state. Reed flew to Alabama in November 2011 and met with TJ, Senator Keahey, and supporters to discuss ideas for creating a similar initiative in Alabama.

The initial method of funding for this program was to impose a small fine on certain traffic violations. However, because this research impacts so much more than the field of medicine, Senator Keahey received bipartisan support to embed $400,000 as a line-item in the Education Trust Fund budget for the TJ Atchison Spinal Cord Injury Research Program. “Having the support of both Democrats and Republicans was a confirmation of how important this initiative is to our state. Not only will this research advance our knowledge of the spinal cord, it will also support post doctoral research and encourage the best and brightest young scientists to the field of spinal cord injury research, right here in Alabama,” said Keahey.

On August 31, the hopes and dreams of this program became a reality as Governor Bentley officially signed Senator Keahey’s bill which approved funding for the TJ Atchison Spinal Cord Injury Research Program.  Sponsor of the bill in the House of Representatives, Rep. Elaine Beech from Washington County, friends and family of TJ’s, along with Administrative Staff from UAB had the opportunity to meet with Governor Bentley for the ceremonial bill signing at the Capitol. Being implemented on October 1, the program is administered by Dr. Candace Floyd, Director of Research for the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at UAB.