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1. Right Place, Right Time!

Brave. Strong. Compassionate. These are words that have been tossed my way over the last few years, but never once have I caught them and accepted them for me.  Instead, I applied these words to friends, or to family members, or co-workers.  Someone else deserved them, not me.  I felt totally undeserved!
But much has happened this week. Many laughs, many cries, many knees bent and eyes closed moments, many talks with those I trust and love dearly. This week, I do feel awfully brave. I have had more doors slammed in my face yet God has given me the strength to kick them down and sprint forward. And I know my heart is consumed with love and compassion for helping others. I wake each morning wondering how I can put smiles on my children's faces, or how I can take a load off of a co-worker's shoulders. This week I feel deserving of these words. 

The reason for my post today is because I see that God has placed me in the right place, at the right time, doing what He has planned for me to do all along.  I see that many years of tragedy and hardship have led to this moment of being able to help people in a mighty way. And I am honored to take on this responsibility.  With many supporters and my best friend Roman Reed, we are bolstering efforts for regenerative medicine research with the Alabama Institute of Medicine . Our AIM team is determined to change the scope of medicine by supporting cutting edge stem cell treatments in Alabama. 

 Click here for more information about AIM.
There are thousands of people praying to experience another lifetime moment with their family and loved ones. A teenage girl diagnosed with cancer wants to have more moments of belly laughter around a dinner table with friends. A grandfather wants to have more pitches thrown to his grandson before Parkinson's Disease takes the use of his body and mind. A young mother wants more smiles from her newborn baby diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). When I think of these precious faces, my fears, doubts, and pains are replaced by courage, faith, and peace. 
AIM is a reality and it will lead to cures for disease and injury!
So moving forward with AIM, life, children, etc..., I have to take a deep breath and remember my favorite excerpt from Matthew 6:
"That is why I am telling you not to worry about your life
And what you are to eat, nor about your body and what you are to wear. Surely life is more than food, and the body more than clothing! …Can any of you, however much you worry, add one single cubit to your span of life?
And why worry about clothing?
Think of the flowers growing in the fields; they never have to work or spin;
Yet I assure you that not even Solomon in all his royal robes was clothed like one of these.
Now if that is how God clothes the wild flowers growing in the field…
Will he not much more look after you, you who have so little faith?

So do not worry;
Do not say, “What are we to eat? What are we to drink? What are we to wear?”
Your heavenly Father knows you need them all.
Set your hearts on his kingdom first…
So do not worry about tomorrow: tomorrow will take care of itself.
Each day has enough trouble of its own."

In closing, I want to say "Thank You!" for the kinds words and support over these last few years of uncertainty. So many of you have walked every step of this journey with me. I wouldn't be here if it weren't for each and every one of you and for the prayers and words of encouragement sent my way.  Much love! ~ Tory

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2. AIMED for a Cure in 2013!

Happy New Year's Eve everyone!

As 2012 comes to an end and I think back over the past twelve months - a wondereful job which relocated my children and me to a new home, town, and community, I feel so fortunate to have been inspired to help others. 

Most of the people that I am close to are people who have experienced tremendous hardships. Whether it be disease, injury, a broken family, financial strain, etc..., I've felt responsible to make a difference in their situation.  In doing this, it helped me to see solutions rather than entertain problems.  And to me, there is nothing better than seeing others happy, especially when I have somehow contributed to their happiness.

There are many people and situations that have shaped me into the person I am, but it is my sister Tera that has inspired me to make a difference in a mighty big way. 

My office at the Spain Rehabilitation Center is directly across from a building that means so much to my family and me.  Children's of Alabama is the place where my sister's life was saved and was home to my mom and Tera for nearly three years.  From her 9th grade year in High School until her Senior year, Tera battled a rare type of cancer, rhabdomyosarcoma.

I thank God each day that my sister won her battle with cancer and has been in complete remission since 1990.

You would think our family would be spared from anything more, but as we all know, disease does not spare one family over another.  In 2010, I was diagnosed with Polycystic Kidney Disease, so of course this is another disease that my family and me would like to be an epic of the past.  As you see in the photo below, people like me living with PKD experience sharp pains when tiny cysts develop and burst on the kidney(s).  People can live with only one kidney, but unfortunately, this disease has attacked both of mine.  My diagnosis was made at a young age, so with lifestyle modifications including healthy eating and moderate exercise, I should live a long and happy life with my family. 

I’m not a doctor or researcher, so I can't invent a cure for PKD, Cancer, or other diseases.  But I can be an advocate for regenerative medicine and help raise money for research.  Yes friends, this is EXACTLY what I plan to do in 2013.

To launch my efforts I made a phone call to my dear friend and ally Senator Marc Keahey.  Marc and I teamed up together in 2011 to help TJ Atchison pass an initiative in Alabama known as the TJ Atchison Spinal Cord Injury Research Act.  You can read more about the passing of "TJ's Law" here...

Marc knows by now that when I give him a call without emailing first, something is in the works.  For thirty minutes, I explained to Marc my plans to fund research that will target and eliminate every disease known to man.

To some this goal may seem unreachable, but not to Marc and I.  We have planned and reached out to those who can and will help us.  A name you've heard so much of this year is Roman Reed, and he is behind us all the way.  With Roman and Marc's support and involvement in this initiative, I know there are no limits to what we can accomplish. 

And the best part of this AIMED for a Cure initiative, is that YOU and YOUR loved ones will benefit 100% from these efforts. 

So, as we head into 2013, I want you to know there are determined people doing incredible things to make this New Year our best one yet.  I promise to update on our progress in a few weeks, but for now, I want to wish all of you a blessed and happy New Year.  Take care and much love!  ~ Tory

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3. Christmas Blessings 2012

Wishing all of you a Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year! Much Love ~ Tory, Catie, Carlie, Conner, & Courtney

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4. From a Ribbon-Cutting to a Foundation, TJ Atchison is Moving Mountains for Paralysis Cure!

November 13, 2012 was a day that TJ Atchison will treasure forever as over 100 people gathered at UAB's North Pavilion Atrium for the Open House and Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony of the TJ Atchison Spinal Cord Injury Research Program.  (*All image copyright Fred Powell)
The event began with a warm welcome and introductions by Dr. Amie McLain, Professor and Chair of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Pre-recorded greetings were shown from UAB's Interim President Dr. Richard Marchase and from Dr. Robert Kimberly, Associate Vice President for Medicine and Biomedical Research (2012 – present) and the Senior Associate Dean for Research (2006-present) in the UAB School of Medicine. 
Dr. Candace Floyd, Director of the TJ Atchison Spinal Cord Injury Research Program, provided a PowerPoint which explained the Vision, Mission, and Goals for TJ's Program.

A powerful message of advocacy and perseverance, Roman Reed, President and CEO of the Roman Reed Foundation, shared his passion and motivations for raising awareness and funding for spinal cord injury research.

TJ, teary eyed and overwhelmed with gratitude for the support and guidance he has received over the last two years, took the microphone and thanked the crowd for attending this special event.

Closing remarks were given by Legislative Sponsor, Senator Marc Keahey, who paused before taking his seat to give a brotherly hug to TJ and Roman.  

And then came the special moment of the day, the ribbon-cutting and official launch of the TJ Atchison Spinal Cord Injury Research Program.

Bottom from Left: Bonnie Blackwell, Roman Reed, TJ Atchison
Top from Left: Tory Minus, Dr. Candace Floyd, Sen. Marc Keahey, Dr. Amie McLain

But just an hour prior to this wonderful celebration, another mountain was moved as TJ called the first Steering Committee meeting to order for his foundation, TJ Atchison Foundation

From Left: Lara Keahey, Vice Chair; Tory Minus, Secretary;
Bonnie Blackwell, Member At Large; Roman Reed, Treasurer; and TJ Atchison, Chair.
We have many goals for the TJ Atchison Foundation including an expanded vision for spinal cord injury research, incorporating grant opportunities for new researchers, and other initiatives to support our cause of raising awareness and funding for spinal cord injury research.

Dr. Candace Floyd will serve as Chair of the
Scientific Advisory Committee for the TJ Atchison Foundation
With our Steering Committee established and recruitment underway for the Board of Directors, TJ's Foundation is moving at lightning speed to make a huge difference for spinal cord injury research in 2013! We’ve begun to look into holding special events for fundraising in the Birmingham area and abroad and hope to announce plans soon.

Close to TJ’s heart, his hometown of Chatom, AL is still an important part of his life. Currently we’re working to plan a fundraiser in south Alabama, so be on the lookout for more information.

TJ putting the final signature on the Articles of Incorporation for his Foundation.
Our continued presence on social media is of the utmost importance. We want to use these resources as a way to reach a large audience including those in need of support for their novel research ideas. Check out the TJ Atchison Spinal Cord Injury Research Program's Facebook Page for updates of the TJ Atchison Core Laboratory and special upcoming events at UAB.

A growing Twitter Account allows us to collaborate with other organizations such as the Roman Reed Foundation specializing in spinal cord injury research advocacy and spreading our message even further!

We’re busy planning and hope to use questions, facts and updates to engage everyone. As always, feel free to send along comments and suggestions to [email protected]. We love your input and want to include everyone in TJ's Program at UAB and in his newly launched Foundation! Take care and have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. ~ Much love, Tory

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5. An Unforgettable Birthday: Meeting Ms. Anonymous

Thirty-Five! Yes today is my special day and I am super excited to be alive and well and smiling through the highs and lows that each day brings!

My birthday has been fun and special in many ways ~ from morning coffee with a dear friend, to tossing around ideas for a ribbon-cutting ceremony, and ending with a delicious strawberry cake made by my sweet children.

These are the precious moments that I cherish and hope to remember for many years to come.

I also had the privilege of meeting an amazing woman today who is known as "Ms. Anonymous" here at Head in the Clouds.

On August 15th, "Ms. Anonymous" left a heartfelt comment on my blogpost "We're Moving!" 

She wrote: "I am so glad that one of my Facebook friends sent me the information about your blog!!! Birmingham, will be happy to have you, and I, would love love love, to meet you. I am a 46 year old, wife and mother. I am also a paraplegic of 29 years, due to an automobile accident in 1983!! Please, if you can fit me in to your schedule, I would love to meet you and chat. I can be reached at xxx-xxxx. I live in Warrior, which is about 15 miles north of Birmingham. Good luck with this new adventure!"

Since receiving her comment in August, I dialed her phone number at least a dozen times but was unsuccessful each time. But on Tuesday, I tried again, and was thrilled to hear a voice on the other end! 

So without further adieu, please let me introduce you to the incredible Melissa Bayles~Fendley, also known as "Ms. Anonymous!"
Melissa is no stranger to UAB or to the Spain Rehabilitation Center. From 1994 - 1998, she served as the spokesperson for the "Think First" Program at UAB and even represented our great state as Ms. Wheelchair Alabama.  To learn more about Melissa please click here. 

For nearly two hours we discussed our hopes, dreams, and visions for what the TJ Atchison Spinal Cord Injury Research Program can do to help our friends and loved ones living with SCI / Paralysis in Alabama and across the country. "Researchers have made incredible strides since my accident 29-years-ago," Melissa said. "I am excited to see what will come from Dr. Floyd and her research lab at the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation!"

As I blow out my bazillion candles tonight ('-'), my wish is that of paralysis cure for TJ, Roman, Bonnie, Katy, Katie, Melissa and for the millions of others who make this same wish each and every day!  

Goodnight, everyone! I hope you all have a great rest of the week, and thanks again Melissa for making this birthday truly unforgettable!  Much love, Tory

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6. Ceremonial Bill Signing for the TJ Atchison SCI Research Program

From left: Senator Keahey, TJ, and Governor Bentley
Yesterday Governor Bentley officially signed TJ's bill which approved funding for the TJ Atchison Spinal Cord Injury Research Program. Sponsored by Senator Marc Keahey (D-Grove Hill), this initiative was passed by the Alabama State Legislature on May 16th which allocated $400,000 in research funding to the University of Alabama Birmingham School of Medicine.

Details of the bill and the work that we did to accomplish this goal are available here.

A recap of the ceremony

Representative Elaine Beech from Washington County, friends, family, supporters of TJ, along with Dr. Candace Floyd and other UAB staff  had the opportunity to meet with Governor Bentley and the legislative bill author, Senator Marc Keahey, for a ceremonial bill signing at the Capitol. Those of us who were lucky enough to attend the ceremony were pleased to share this special day with TJ and his family.

Governor Bentley having a private chat with TJ 
We knew that Governor Bentley was extremely busy and had many things on his agenda (such as visiting families of south Alabama who were impacted by storm, Isaac, earlier in the week), and so we expected that the ceremony would be quick. However, when the Governor came to meet us in the beautiful Old Office Chamber Room of the Capitol, he took the time to speak with TJ about his goals for being a patient advocate, then asked if we had any questions for him.

My daughter Catie, Governor Bentley, and TJ's sister Alyssa
Governor Bentley was such a gracious host. He held the hands of our little ones and encouraged them to be great students, friends, and to work hard in their schools and communities.

From left: Senator Keahey, Tucker McDonald, Anita & Carey McDonald, Governor Bentley, Representative Elaine Beech; Bottom: Alyssa and TJ
When there were no more picture requests or questions left to ask, the Governor seated himself at a desk in the center of the room and we gathered around him for the bill signing ceremony. After we had our group photo taken, the Governor handed out pens with his name on them to TJ and the children gathered around his chair.

In all, Governor Bentley spent about 25 minutes with our group. It was obvious that he enjoyed chatting with us and with TJ, as his staff finally had to inform him that it was time for the visit to end. Indeed, we were honored by the whole experience!

After tons of persistence and determination, TJ and I were thrilled to say, "WE DID IT!" 
Celebratory luncheon
Program Administrator for the TJ Atchison Spinal Cord Injury Research Program,
Dr. Candace Floyd (standing), welcomed our group to the special luncheon held at
Central Restaurant in Montgomery.
Of course our hearts were filled with such joy and happiness for what had been triumphantly accomplished, but our group sorely missed the company of our dear friend and ally Roman Reed .

November 11, 2011, the beginning of "TJ's Law"
 From left: Me, Bonnie Blackwell, Roman Reed, and TJ
Because of Roman's commitment to pass AB 1657 ( This bill will raise funds to sustain the Roman Reed SCI Research Fund at UC Irvine’s Reeve-Irvine Center) in his home state of California, Roman was unable to make the trip to Bama for Governor Bentley's bill signing.

TJ's program at UAB would never have been possible had it not been for Roman's instrumental roll in the formation and passing of Senator Keahey's legislation. So on behalf of our TEAM, I would like to say thank you to Roman for everything he has done to encourage and help TJ in his mission for paralysis cure.

"From Alabama to California, TJ and I fight together so that one day soon, all who suffer from a spinal cord injury / paralysis can stand with you!" ~ Roman Reed

Please stay tuned to Head in the Clouds as more pictures from this special day will be posted soon. Take care and have a wonderful Labor Day weekend!

Much love, Tory

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7. We're Moving!

For those of you who know how close we are to our family in Millry, this title certainly caught your eye, right? :)

My little munchkins: Courtney (inside the box), Catie, Conner, and Carlie holding her doll Rocky
As I finish packing our things for the move to Birmingham this week, I am CRAZY busy scheduling last minute playdates for my children and wrapping up my job responsibilities at CWEMC.  There has been so much activity in our lives these past few weeks, that I've not had much time to really let this move sink in, until this evening. 

The children and I started praying about relocating after "TJ's Law" passed in May, and the recruiting process began for me to help build this special program - one which is VERY dear to my heart and will benefit thousands who live with or care for a loved one who suffer from a spinal cord injury.  I am passionate about helping the paralysis community, and I feel it is such an honor and privilege to be involved with this incredible program. 

It is definitely hard leaving those we love and all that is familiar to us in Washington County, especially with most of our family here, a job that I have loved since day one, a beautiful home on my father's property, and a church family and school we adore. 

But God has a bigger plan for us!  And after countless back porch conversations with my mom and sister, I feel a tremendous sense of peace about this huge leap of faith.  The children are beyond excited, which is a total confirmation from above that this is best for my family.

I can't wait to unpack more of the story with you in the months ahead, but for today, I just wanted you to know our BIG news.  Cheers to the future of paralysis cure, moving trucks, boxes & all!

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8. It's Official: Funding for the TJ Atchison Spinal Cord Injury Research Program has passed in Alabama!

(AP Photo/Dave Martin, file photo from April 12, 2012, as the Alabama House is seen in Session.)
I am thrilled to report that funding for the TJ Atchison Spinal Cord Injury Research Program has been approved by the Alabama State Legislature and is expected to be signed by Governor Bentley very soon. Sponsored by Senator Marc Keahey (D-Grove Hill), this initiative will provide approximately $400,000 in research funding to the University of Alabama Birmingham School of Medicine.

The money will be administered by Dr. Candace Floyd, Interim Director of Clinical Research for the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. "This is an important initiative that will go a long way toward finding a cure and alleviating the side affects that spinal cord injury patients experience," said Floyd.

Senator Keahey said, "I am honored to bring the TJ Atchison Spinal Cord Injury Research Program to the forefront of Alabama's medical research innovative efforts." He added, "This is cutting edge research and something I feel Alabama will benefit from having on hand."

The initial method of funding for this research program was to impose a small fine on reckless drivers through Senator Keahey's bill SB338, the proceeds going to the Atchison Spinal Cord Injury Research Fund. This approach was to mimic that of California's  "Roman Reed Law" which has made a significant impact on SCI research in America, and across the world.

However, because this research impacts more than the field of medicine, Senator Keahey received bipartisan support to embed $400,000 as a line-item in the ETF (Education Trust Fund) budget for the T.J. 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 the great state of Alabama."

Spinal Cord Injury Facts:
  • It is estimated that the annual incidence of spinal cord injury (SCI) is approximately 40 cases per million population in the U. S. or approximately 12,000 new cases each year.
  • The number of people in the United States who have SCI has been estimated to be approximately 265,000 persons.
  • Since 2005, motor vehicle crashes account for 40.4% of reported SCI cases.
For more SCI Facts, please visit the 0 Comments on It's Official: Funding for the TJ Atchison Spinal Cord Injury Research Program has passed in Alabama! as of 5/17/2012 12:15:00 PM
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9. Rally Time for Roman!

It's rally time, friends! 
Roman Reed has been instrumental in the formation of SB338 in Alabama – the T.J. Atchison SPINAL CORD INJURY RESEARCH ACT. “TJ’s Law” was filed into legislation by Senator Marc Keahey on February 16, 2012 with funding to be allocated via the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

The Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research Act has made a significant impact on SCI research in America, and across the world. As a witness to this devastating injury, I cannot stress how important the passing of AB1657 is for the future of therapeutic research discoveries in paralysis. “Roman’s Law” must be supported, so please join in support by cutting & pasting the letter below and send ASAP to Assembly Member Fuentes. 

We need your letters of support to pass AB 1657. Please write for paralysis cure!

Felipe Fuentes - Chair Democrat-39 (916) 319-2039  Assemblymember.Fuentes@assembly.ca.gov

Cc: [email protected].  

 (Sample letter can be cut & pasted)

Dear Chair Felipe Fuentes,

I, ...... ........, strongly support California AB 1657, a one dollar surcharge on all moving traffic violations to fund the Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research Act.

AB 1657 provides annual funding for research of spinal cord injury and related ALS, Alzheimer's, Parkinsons', SMA and related neurological conditions to be able to one day realize the dream of paralysis cure.

Supported by UC, CIRM, Bob Klein, Irv Weissman, Paul Berg, Craig Newmark, Stem Cells Inc., CA Stem Cell Inc. Hans Keirstead, California Healthcare Institute, Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, Art Torres, Duane Roth, Stu Gordon, Shinya Yamanaka, and the USC School of Politics among many others!

There is a clear nexis between 46% of all spinal cord injuries and 60% of children's SCI paralysis, (Mayo Clinic), caused by auto accidents and fining reckless drivers.

AB 1657 creates jobs, brings money into our State and enables the research that is the hope for paralysis cure.

AB 1657 Ensures CA's leadership in Biotechnology. Roman's Law gives CA Scientists the seed money to Prove in principal and establish data to leverage the huge funding sources of NIH, CIRM, etc.

Fiscally Responsible: No State funds. Creates and keeps Whi

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10. TJ's Visit to the Spain Rehabilitation Center!

I spoke with TJ this morning, and he is still on cloud nine from yesterday's visit to the Spain Rehabilitation Center in Birmingham. This trip was important to TJ for many reasons: to build awareness for the TJ Atchison Spinal Cord Injury Research Act in Alabama; to meet doctors at the Spain Center who champion health and research for spinal cord injury; and to show his dedication and commitment to being a patient advocate for paralysis cure.

With about 15 supporters of "TJ's Law" making the trip to Birmingham, including mentor Roman Reed from the Roman Reed Foundation in California, this first face-to-face meeting for TJ and Dr. Candace Floyd was a long-awaited celebration and memorable jump start to TJ's decision of becoming a patient advocate. "I still can't believe how far we have come since that first meeting back in November," TJ said.

Just before lunch, Dr. Floyd introduced Dr. Richard Marchase, Professor and Vice President of Research and Economic Development, and Dr. Robert Kimberly, Professor and Senior Associate Dean for Research.

Dr. Marchase and Dr. Kimberly took time getting to know everyone and gave assurance that the University of Alabama Birmingham was of tremendous support for the TJ Atchison Spinal Cord Injury Research Act. "This legislation is very important for all Alabamians living with spinal cord injury, and we will be great stewards of the funds generated from it," stated Dr. Marchase.

Next up, Dr. Floyd explained the new frontiers in translational research at UAB. Her impressive powerpoint fueled our interests in the scientific dynamics of spinal cord injury research, and helped us to understand how critical funding is to take these incredible ideas from animal studies to human clinical trials. We were encouraged by Dr. Floyd's closing words: "When 'SB338' is passed and the ball is tossed to us, we are going to catch it and run with it!"

Other UAB presenters included Dr. Robert Brunner, Medical Director of the Spain Rehabilitation Center and Associate Chief of Staff; Jacquelyn Green, Director of Research Services of the Dept. of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation; Dr. Yu-Ying Chen, Associate Professor of the Dept. of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, PI SCI Model System; Dr. Danielle Powell, Assistant Professor of the Dept. of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation; Dr. Amie Jackson, Professor and Chair of the Dept. of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, PI SCI Model System; and Yvonne Akins, Executive Administrator of the Dept. of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

Not only was Wednesday's meeting a great opportunity to bring together fellow

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11. Why We Need Your Letters of Support!

Why We Need Your Letters ofSupport!
Help us fund the TJ Atchison Spinal Cord Injury Research Act - you can make adifference in the research for cure by writing a letter of support to yourlocal representative.
Senator Marc Keahey is the authorof the TJ Atchison Spinal Cord Injury Research Act. He will face the budgetbattles, and political debates of why this research is necessary in Alabama. Wemust not let him fight empty-handed.
He needs letters of support fromAlabamians, and also from affected individuals and groups from everywhere—paralysis knows noboundaries. Follow this link http://www.legislature.state.al.us/to search for your representative by zip code.
We ask your help.Here is a sample letter, use all or some of it, if you like, or write your owncompletely. Please write something, and do it soon, please: the 2012Legislative Session begins tomorrow, February 7th. Emailsand ground letters must go out very soon, tonight if possible. Thank you forsupporting the TJ Atchison Spinal Cord Injury Research Act.

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12. Senator Keahey's press release for "TJ's Law!"

Very exciting news! Follow this link to read Senator Marc Keahey's Press Release for "TJ's Law."

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13. The beginning of "TJ's Law!"

Very similar to what Roman Reed did in 1998 with the Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research Act of California, the brave TJ Atchison hopes to accomplish this and more in the great state of Alabama.

Yesterday, before a crowd of fifty close family members and friends, Senator Marc Keahey announced his plans to introduce the TJ Atchison Spinal Cord Injury Research Act in Alabama. This legislation would use funds generated from traffic violations such as reckless driving and DUI to support spinal cord injury research in our state.

Shortly after explaining the framework behind "TJ's Law," Senator Keahey passed the microphone to the young man who inspired him to take such a political stance on spinal cord injury research.

With a sweet smile across his face, and a determined tone in his voice, TJ Atchison read from a crinkled piece of computer paper in his lap:

"Good afternoon! I am TJ Atchison, the world’s first participant in our nation’s first ever federally approved clinical trial using human embryonic stem cell therapy and co-author of The Human Candidate. I am paralyzed from a car accident and fighting for a paralysis cure.

In firmly believing in the love, grace and sovereignty of God in creating and embracing human life, I also believe in the justification for sustaining a quality of life for myself, the 1.8 million Americans living with spinal cord injury paralysis, 5.6 million Americans suffering from some form of paralysis and all people living paralyzed. It is my desire to convey a message of hope and peace and provide answers for why I decided to participate in the highly controversial clinical trial that began on October 8, 2010.

So now I ask for your help in making the dreams of a paralysis cure a reality by supporting the TJ Atchison Spinal Cord Injury Research Act Authored by our great Senator Marc Keahey!

Our Law will impose a small $1 added sur-charge on all moving traffic violations, $5 for aggravated moving violations, and $10 for DUI - no taxes, or State general fund withdrawals – to fund the research for paralysis cure while creating jobs and giving hope to the paralyzed – all, right here within our great home State of Alabama.

Your support will strongly impact whether or not I spend the rest of my life confined to a wheelchair or accomplish my dream of walking again. We must fund the research for spinal cord injury cure.


After a brotherly handshake, TJ passed the mic to his friend and mentor, Roman Reed.
Instantly, the advocate spirit came shining through, as Roman educated the crowd on the importance for finding a paralysis cure.

"The very first mention of paralysis was written inside the walls of an Egyptian tomb. It read, 'deny the paralyzed soldier water, for there is nothing that can be done.' For too long, that was the truth, but not now. Not anymore! There is MUCH that can be done, that WILL be done

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14. On Schedule!

This Monday may seem like a typical start to the week for most, but for TJ Atchison, it's a day that he will remember always. The twenty-two year old nursing student is following his normal Monday schedule - attending classes, visiting patients, socializing with friends, but he's also squeezing in a press conference to share BIG news with all of you. 

As I left for work this morning, a close friend called and asked if TJ's press conference was on schedule for today. A few minutes later, text messages started pouring in and my email inbox filled with the same question. So, I thought it would be nice to let all of you know that TJ's press conference is on schedule for 1 pm today at USA's Moulton Tower. He's not a bit nervous, just eager to share the exciting news with everyone. 

In closing, I'd like to ask that you keep TJ in your thoughts and prayers today. Because of this brave young man, huge advances in spinal cord injury research are on the horizon! Best wishes, everyone! ~ Tory

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15. TJ's Press Conference!

Okay, friends! I've been given the go ahead to share details about TJ's press conference.

Senator Keahey confirmed this morning that he, TJ, and Roman Reed will hold a press conference at 1 pm, Monday, January 30th, in front of the University of South Alabama's beautiful Moulton Tower.

The purpose for TJ holding this press conference will be revealed Monday, so check back then to see what he, Senator Keahey, and Roman have in store for the great state of Alabama, and for the Nation.  

Until then, I hope you all have a safe, meaningful, productive, and happy weekend!  Much love, Tory

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16. A big announcment on the way to Alabama!

Remember when TJ Atchison, Roman Reed, and Senator Keahey got together in November? Well, a lot has taken place since that evening in Chatom, Alabama.

Third from left, Senator Keahey shares with the group his desire
to make spinal cord injury research a priority in Alabama.  
As I type this blogpost tonight, these incredible men are making final preparations for a press conference that will be held before January's end. TJ plans to invite local and national media outlets to join him, Roman and Senator Keahey (D-AL) as they reveal exciting news about spinal cord injury research in Alabama. 

For those of you who know TJ, Roman, and Senator Keahey, you understand the meaning behind my words, A BIG ANNOUNCEMENT. Indeed these gentlemen pour their hearts and souls into everything they do, so it will definitely be an event you will want to follow closely. 

Please understand that I do not want to disclose any more information about this announcement, because TJ has waited months to share this exciting news with you; it is not my place to say or do anything to jeopardize this moment for him, I simply want to make people aware that something BIG is in the works for this young man. It is sure to be an exciting time for all spinal cord injury patients, the State of Alabama , and for the Nation!
Until then, TJ has asked that I extend his sincere appreciation for all of the support and prayers that have been lifted up to him and his family.  He feels blessed beyond measure to have each of you in his life, and so do I!  Good night, everyone. Much love, ~ Tory

2 Comments on A big announcment on the way to Alabama!, last added: 1/24/2012
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17. Enduring Faith!

Last year at this time, my entire life was being turned upside down - my marriage of eleven years was falling apart and I was drowning in the fear of how I would raise four children on my own. What kept me from slipping into a depression or questioning Why me?

My faith in God, a wonderful support group of family and friends, and a young man named TJ Atchison got me through this major life crisis!!!

A few months earlier I sat by TJ's bedside at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, reduced to tears by the circumstances of his spinal cord injury. For over three hours, I fought an emotional meltdown because I could not imagine this young man in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. How was he holding himself together so strong?

Even going through such a time of uncertainty, peace seemed almost unnatural considering the hugeness of what he was experiencing. He was not in denial. TJ was holding tight to a peace that could only come from God. He had witnessed years of God's work in his family - a grandfather who had danced with death more than once, and a young cousin living each day to its fullest after being diagnosed with cystic fibrosis.

Yes, life was certainly trying to wear me down, but after spending time with TJ and his incredible family, I was able to see that God would provide for and keep my family strong through everyday trials and tribulations. I'd seen firshand that "We also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance." (Romans 5:3)

With many of us wondering what 2012 will bring, I want you to know that enduring faith can help you for when and not if life tries to wear you down. Best wishes for a happy, healthy, and blessed New Year, everyone!!!  Much Love, Tory

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18. Stationery card

Christ Wishes Religious Christmas Card
Find unique and modern Christmas cards at Shutterfly.
View the entire collection of cards.

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19. Take Everything In Stride!

When news broke last Monday of Geron Corporation's decision to halt the world's first clinical trial using human embryonic stem cells, many in the stem cell community - patients, scientists, advocates - wondered how TJ Atchison would respond to the announcement.

Being the first to heroically and courageously volunteer for the trial, many feared TJ would be devastated and give up hope that a cure for his condition was possible. It was indeed a time of uncertainty for the twenty-two-year-old, considering he had been told the only reason the trial would be placed on hold was if a serious adverse event occurred with any of the patients injected with the cells.

However, in keeping with his belief that everything happens for a reason, TJ prayed this was a temporary setback, and felt certain another company would pick up where Geron had left off. "Once you've been through what I have (being paralyzed at the age of twenty-one), you can deal with just about anything - even the challenge of waiting for a clinical trial to resume," he stated. "I've learned to take everything in stride."

There are now five patients enrolled in the GRNOPC1 trial, the latest participant agreed to the procedure even knowing the biotech company would soon discontinue further developments of it's stem cell programs and focus solely on their novel cancer program.

Just two days before Geron's Press Release, TJ and Senator Marc Keahey (D-AL) met with close friend and patient advocate Roman Reed to discuss the importance of funding for spinal cord injury research in America. TJ knew if the treatment posed no safety risks to humans, then it must be funding that led to Geron's decision to halt the trial.

Without hesitation, TJ picked up his phone and dialed Roman's number - it was this moment when he took ownership of being the first human candidate for hESC therapy. He went from being a participant to becomming a leading patient advocate for stem cell research.

Nov. 19, 2011, TJ (first player from left) posing with his team, the Univ. of Southern Mississippi TLC Golden Eagles, in Gulfport, MS. The Golden Eagles defeated New Orleans with a final score of 43-38. 

After bouncing around ideas with Roman for over an hour, the two created a plan of partnership for raising awareness and funding for spinal cord injury research in America. For TJ's family and friends watching in the distance, it was remarkable to see him turn such a negative event into something extraordinaire. The confidence in his voice and determination in his eyes was stronger than we had ever seen before.

As I looked on, I couldn't help but think how incredibly strong TJ and his mission had become. Many of you reading will agree that stories of inspiration usually include a remarkable twist - a moment when the main character experiences a life-changing&nb

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20. Spreading the Stem Cell Message

Several weeks back when I visited Roman Reed, President and Founder of the Roman Reed Foundation in California, he mentioned that he would like to travel to Alabama to meet the world's first stem cell candidate, TJ Atchison, in person. Roman, a football player at heart, a patient advocate by calling, a political leader by choice, has spent over a decade of his life in a wheelchair, advocating on Capitol Hill for a human clinical trial of this nature to begin. So when I called him a week later and told him that TJ would be thrilled to meet him over Veteran's Day Holiday, Roman immediately made arrangements to travel over 2000 miles to Chatom, Alabama for a three-day visit with TJ and his family.

The closer it got to Roman's and TJ's special meeting, the advocate spirit of Roman came shining through when he asked if any state legislators might be interested in joining he and TJ for dinner one evening. Wherever Roman goes, he is never afraid or bashful to spread the word about stem cell therapy and how it can rid the world of disease and disability.    

The idea of introducing Roman to our representatives had already crossed my mind. In fact, Senator Marc Keahey (D-AL) and I had spoken on several occasions about the hot topic issue of embryonic stem cell resesarch and the clinical trial in which TJ had participated in. 

Senator Keahey, a conservative Southern Baptist from Grove Hill, was very interested in learning more about the stem cells used in TJ's therapy. Being a ProLife supporter and father of three young children, he wanted to learn more in order to take a stance one way or the other on the controversial issue.

After coordinating dates and times between TJ, Senator Keahey and Roman, we determined a time and location to meet, and the rest is now history.

Last night, a small group of ten individuals including TJ Atchison, his mother and stepfather - Mr. and Mrs. Carey McDonald, Roman Reed, Senator Marc Keahey, myself, my mother - Glenda Armstrong, Mr. and Mrs. Wayne Blackwell, and Bonnie Blackwell, gathered for dinner at Casanova's Rendezvous in Chatom, Alabama, to discuss stem cell research and ways to encourage funding in our state for this novel therapy.

From left: TJ Atchison, Roman Reed, Senator Marc Keahey, and myself enjoying conversation with one another before the rest of our group arrived.

Roman (center) with a warm smile on his face as he shares a photo with Senator Keahey of Gwendolyn Strong, 4-year-old SMA patient from California, who has inspired him to find a cure for other malfunctions and diseases of the central nervous system.

21. Stem Cell Pioneers

Since the beginning of documenting TJ's story in November '10, I have prayed for the day when I could sit in a room with stem cell pioneer Dr. Hans Keirstead and Roman Reed of Roman's Law and ask questions about stem cell therapy and the science behind Geron's clinical trial . If only I could have an hour to speak with these men, I would say to myself while sitting at my computer until midnight, searching the public domain for any overlooked videos or articles mentioning their names.

Because I am abundantly optimistic and tenacious in spirit when it comes to something I feel passionate about, I convinced myself that everything would fall into place and that somehow, someway, TJ and I would have the opportunity to speak with Hans and Roman.

With the diligent help of our literary agent Mac Mackie, our prayers were answered, and TJ and I received an email from a major advocacy group, offering to put us in direct contact with anyone in the stem cell community that we desired to speak with. Of course we didn't hesitate one minute in responding to this generous offer. We went for it, and fast!

Fast forward two weeks later, I was heading home from work and just a few blocks from Courtney's preschool in Chatom - the one in which TJ's mother Anita is the director - I received a text stating that Hans Keirstead had agreed to participate in an interview if we were interested. It's almost hilarious looking back on it now at how I wheeled my Suburban into the daycare parking lot and ran inside to tell Anita the exciting news. It was moments like this, seeing the smile on her face, that fueled my efforts and made me work even harder on The Human Candidate.

And so the following week, with my itinerary folder in one hand and resource books tucked away in my carry-on bag, I departed Mobile Regional Airport en route to Santa Ana, California to meet and interview Dr. Hans Keirstead and Roman Reed. Of course this was a golden nugget opportunity for the research portion of TJ's story, but there was also a yearning to connect these amazing men to TJ. As the plane reached altitude above the clouds, and my nerves settled to their normal state, I looked out my window at the beautiful sunset and thanked God for allowing things to fall into place for TJ and his story.

I have always believed that pictures often times tell a story better than the written word, so please enjoy the pictures below that were taken during my trip to Irvine and Valencia, California!

I will always remember this visit with Hans Keirstead at the Sue and Bill Gross Research Center at University of California in Irvine. Hans is the brilliant neurobiologist who invented the protocol in which paralyzed rats were injected with human embryonic stem cells and later regained sensory and motor function at the site of injury level. His invention was patented and sold to Geron Corporation in Menlo Park, California for use in human clinical trials. TJ Atchison is the first spinal cord injury patient enrolled in this federally regulated clinical trial.

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22. The Hardest Part Is Saying Goodbye!

Here in this world, there are many beautiful, wonderful, and sometimes terrible things that happen. Some experience more or less of each, but for TJ Atchison, he has witnessed more life changing events in his twenty-two years than most people will see in a lifetime.

His car accident last September was a walloping blow - leaving him paralyzed from the waist down and a feeling of uncertainty for what the future would hold. Then in October, becoming the first participant in Geron's stem cell clinical trial made him hopeful that life would not be as difficult as he once thought. This trial had become a huge part of his life, but it was not going to consume him. TJ quickly realized that God had a bigger plan for his future, and he was not going to question another minute of another day.

The children and I were able to spend some time with TJ and his family this morning before he headed back to college. It was heartwarming to witness the love and support shown from his family and friends - his roomate, Kyle Dees carried box after box to the car and reassured TJ's parents that he would take the very best care of their son.

As you can see in the photo above, TJ is not allowing his circumstances to keep him from reaching his goals. He is more determined than ever to return to the University of South Alabama Nursing School in Mobile, Ala. and complete his nursing degree. And his mother, Anita could not be happier for her oldest son. For months, she has devoted every hour of each day to TJ, waiting on his every need and making sure his spirits remained high. Certainly this is a difficult time for her to let go, but she sees the excitement in his face and knows this transition of returning to college is exactly what her son needs.

For those of you who know TJ Atchison well, I'm sure you will agree that he is one of those kids who knocks it out of the park each time he's up to bat. He never gets down or frustrated with being young and disabled. Instead, he has turned this negative experience into something astounding - a true testament of TJ's faith in God!

It is his goal to be an inspiration to young and old, which as you can tell by the smiling faces above, my little ones think TJ Atchison hung the moon! For thousands of other young and disabled, TJ hopes to show it is possible to live a normal, productive life, and that their dreams can be fulfilled with a little patience and determination. He believes that it's how you react to life's surprises that determine if you can hit the ball out of the park or simply strike out.

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23. Upbeat Down South

There are three excuses for why I have not updated my blog in over a month: 1) Every spare minute away from a full-time job and the four cuties that call me mommy has been dedicated to helping TJ write his story, The Human Candidate. 2) TJ wanted to complete a full month of Beyond Therapy in order to share his experience and update you on his progress. 3) He wanted to announce his plans of returning to nursing school in the Fall - something TJ has looked forward to since his accident in September.

TJ and I interviewing his classmate and friend, Mary Lauren Bailey and his Professor, Joe Farmer at The University of South Alabama in Mobile. *Brooke Helms Photography, Mobile

Beyond Therapy
Since January - when Day Program at Shepherd Center came to an end, TJ hoped his application to Beyond Therapy would be accepted. Initiated in 2005, Beyond Therapy is yet another of Shepherd's boundary pushing programs. With facilities in Atlanta, GA and Franklin, TN, this rigorous program continually operates at full capacity - between 30 and 35 clients, each of whom receive some 9 to 15 hours of physical therapy a week. Yet with a perpetual waiting list of 50 names long, TJ knew it would be some time before getting in.

It was during his follow-up appointment at Shepherd Center in May that he learned a spot had opened for Beyond Therapy at the facility in Franklin, TN. Though it was a long way from Chatom - a little town in the pines of south Alabama, TJ knew he had potential to do more and wanted to keep going. Therefore, the following Monday, TJ, his mom, stepfather, teenage brother and 6-year-old sister made the seven hour trip to the hills of Tennessee.

Now, TJ had a "new goal to work on," to get better and stronger - both physically and emotionally.

His therapy began from the minute he arrived. In addition to Physical Therapy (PT) and Occupational Therapy (OT), he worked with specialists on strength-building and core exercises to help those muscles below the level of his injury recover and possibly demonstrate voluntary motor activity.

Going to therapy week after week, TJ learned that teaching his upper body muscles to control his lower extremities was an exhausting ordeal. But he never once gave up. The gradual improvement day after day is what made it all worthwhile. "It was the little things like pedaling a bicycle for a few seconds on my own that made me push harder the next day," he explained.

A huge milestone that TJ remembers about Beyond Therapy is the day he was able to crawl on the floor - with quite a bit of assistance, true, but he was moving forward. "It sounds funny to say it, but it was so exciting to move forward without the use of my wheelchair.

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24. Upcoming Interview!

It was an organized effort by many to select T.J. Atchison as the first spinal cord injury patient to participate in such a landmark clinical trial. When it was time for a decision to be made by T.J. and his family, little did they consider the procedure to be as monumental as it was. After all, T.J. was a mere nursing student at the University of South Alabama trying to make his final effort to become a college graduate. He had no intention or desire to become a famous person; his only wish was to walk again.

Film crews from ABC News traveled to small town Alabama last week to interview T.J. about being the first spinal cord injury patient to be injected with human embryonic stem cells. In the photo above, T.J. and Cameron Waite act more like brothers than first cousins as they play a quick game of basketball.

ABC News Correspondent, Steve Osunsami, extends a hand to Anita McDonald as she reveals what it felt like to hear the devastating news of her son's accident.

Through it all, T.J. is not interested in being some sort of hero, but if he is presented with the opportunity to help his fellow man and future sufferers of degenerative medical conditions, he believes it is his religious and ethical obligation to be an advocate for this clinical trial—and the research behind it—that may just end up giving millions of disabled people the ability to live a normal, productive life.

Little sister Alyssa enjoyed spending the afternoon with T.J. as he interviewed with Steve Osunsami from ABC News.

T.J. enjoyed a few laughs with Steve Osunsami and the film crew from ABC News.

With no hesitation whatsoever, T.J. has asked for my help to co-author his story, The Human Candidate, in effort to share his identity and perception as being the first recipient of HES cells with the world.

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25. The Heart of It All!

Sunday after settling the kids in from church, I made a flying trip to Atlanta in order to meet with TJ's doctors and to obtain necessary paperwork for my research in his story The Human Candidate.

It wasn't long after arriving at the Center that I realized how busy a Monday morning was for everyone - patients filled the waiting areas and staff members rushed about their day as if seconds remained for a game-winning touchdown.

With very few vacant chairs in the lobby area and an hour to spare before my first appointment, I began wandering up and down the hallways of the Shepherd Building. It amazed me that going into my sixth visit at the rehabilitation center, I had somehow overlooked a wall filled with beautiful artwork - most were pieces painted by former patients, awards recognizing staff and administrators for different achievements, and photographs of events held throughout the Center's thirty-five year history.

A few minutes later, a security officer passed and asked if I needed help finding my way. I suppose my large duffel bag filled with notebooks and reference books was a dead ringer for not being there for medical reasons. I explained that I was waiting to interview a staff member, and mentioned that I would love to find a quite place to write. She smiled and pointed me in the direction of the Noble Learning Resource Center which was just down the hallway and to the left.

In the few steps it took to reach the library, I passed a couple standing near their son in a wheelchair and inadvertently overheard their conversation. Suddenly the memories of TJ being a patient at the facility quickly came back to me. The same determination and strength heard in this family's conversation was like rewinding six months to the time when TJ was dealing with the same uncertainty and reality of being young and disabled. With motivation like no other, and a rush of ideas stirring inside my head, I wasted no time in finding the perfect chair inside the library. I must admit, this is the most intense writing I have ever experienced, as I felt that I was no longer writing for TJ alone, but for millions of other spinal cord injury patients out there who pray each day for a cure for paralysis.

Not even a page into my writing, a volunteer at the library - Tony Boatright who is also a spinal cord injury patient, pushed his chair next to me and asked if I needed anything before he left for lunch. I smiled and shook my head no. He paused and looked at me curiously - again, the bag full of books and me intensely writing is apparently enough to raise an eyebrow - and asked what I was working on. I explained that I was writing a book about spinal cord injury patients, and immediately conversation took off. For five minutes, Tony and I chatted about the Center and the resources available there for spinal cord injury patients. He was also interested in my writing, but never once asked the topic of the book. It wasn't until a phone call early this morning that I revealed to Tony the concept behind TJ's book. Tony was very happy to hear of TJ's progress, and like many others, he was enthusiastic to learn that TJ's story is well on its way to being published.

This Dear Friends, is why I am passionate about bringing The Human Candidate to life, because I have witnessed how life-changing TJ's story is to those who hear it. Many disabled people anticipate the results of this clinical trial. They are hopeful that a cure for spinal cord injury and chronic illness will be in their lifetime. Indeed, TJ's optimism and strength has given them a

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