SCI Superstar: Brooke Ellison

The first quadriplegic to graduate from Harvard, Brooke Ellison is one of the most well known women with high-level quadriplegia in the world. You may have even seen her on the “Hope. Pass it on” billboards. From graduating from one of the most prestigious universities in the country to running for the New York State senate in 2006, here’s exactly how Brooke hasn’t let her injury stop her from achieving her dreams.

Why she’s fearless

Brooke’s injury happened when she was young – when she was in junior high (she was hit by a car walking home the first day of school). Afterwards, she was disillusioned (who knows where your life will take you as a C2 vent dependent quadriplegic?). But then she began to see she was still capable of so much, despite her paralysis, and her perspective shifted like that.

After a SCI, we’re told to focus on our education. Well, Brooke took this advice and ran with it. She wizzed through high school, graduating with high honors, and was quickly accepted at Harvard. In 2000, Brook graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor of science in cognitive neuroscience, and that was just the first of her advanced degrees.

In 2004, Brooke went on to receive a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard as well (their Kennedy School of Government), and currently, she’s a doctoral candidate in sociology at Stony Brook University in New York. To say she’s smart would be a serious understatement.

Receiving these degrees however was just the start of her goals. She had political aspirations too. In 2006, she ran for State Senate in New York with one of her biggest issues – embryonic stem cell research. She ran against incumbent Republican John Flanagan, but lost. While she didn’t win, Brooke definitely made an impact on the expected capabilities (and the political aspirations of many PWD; paving the way) of vent-dependent quadriplegics. And look, she totally hop-nobs with presidents still. Jealous!

Brooke’s story was so inspirational, Christopher Reeve even reached out to her after he became hurt. The two became close friends and Christopher directed a film about her life called The Brooke Ellison’s Story (it was the last film he directed; aired on A&E in 2004).

What’s next?

Despite being ensconced in her doctorate studies, Brooke has made it her goal to spread awareness on embryonic stem cell research. In 2009, she teamed up with film director James Siegel to create the documentary, Hope Deferred, to educate the public on embryonic stem cell research. Brooke also writes daily about medical ethics via her blog.

Last year, Brooke was also awarded the Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters Degree from Rutgers University. Dr. Young (another one of our SCI Superstars) interviewed her. Check it out

And Brooke’s latest foray? Teaching. While studying at Stony Brook, she’s teaching a couple of courses there too. She teaches “Ethics of Hope,” a class taken by second-year medical students, and she also teaches “Stem Cells and Society,” a class focusing on the legislation and social implications of stem cell research.

They say knowledge is freedom. In Brooke Ellison’s case, that couldn’t be more profound or true.

Do you have a healthy coping attitude like Brooke’s? What’s your secret?

Watch videos of Brooke Ellison!

Brooke Ellison talks about moving on after her injury (for the Reeve Foundation)

Brooke Ellison’s 2006 Senate campaign TV ad, “Kick Butt”

Brooke Ellison’s commencement speech at her Harvard graduation

Brooke Ellison interviewed on Larry King Live

Clip from the Brooke Ellison Story

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