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When you vote for a Senator, you are not just selecting a member of a party, or supporting a set of political beliefs; you are choosing someone whose entire life has prepared them for this day.

LIGHT A CANDLE OR CURSE THE DARKNESS? Roman Reed Builds Senate Campaign Around Biomedical Research

By Don C. Reed

When you vote for a Senator, you  are not just selecting a member of a party, or supporting  a set of political beliefs; you are choosing someone whose entire life has prepared them for this day.  

Nineteen years ago, Roman Reed became paralyzed in a college football game. His neck was broken; the spinal cord was injured. The doctors gave him no hope of ever returning to a normal life-style.

But they did not know my son. Above his hospital bed, Roman had a sign made: “I CAN, I WILL, I SHALL”, and that has been his motto ever since.

After months of grueling rehabilitation exercise,  he recovered the use of his arms, and learned to drive an adapted van. Roman Reed had places to go and things to do, like graduating from the University of California at Berkeley—and passing a law to fight paralysis.  

Inspired by Roman, Assemblyman John Dutra (D-Fremont, retired)  authored a medical research bill, the Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research Act of 1999. Over the next ten years, “Roman’s Law” provided $15 million in California dollars for research- while attracting an additional $87 million from the National Institutes of Health and other sources—over one hundred million dollars in biomedical research for California.

It was a small miracle when a formerly paralyzed lab rat took her first tentative steps—walking again after paralysis-- but there was more to come.

Our small law funded research by Dr. Hans Keirstead, which led to the world’s first embryonic stem cell clinical trials for people. Thomas Okarma of Geron said, “Without the Roman Reed Act, it would never have happened.”

But every success led to a larger awareness. Roman realized that “incurable” illness and injury was far bigger than paralysis alone.  An estimated 5.6 million Americans are paralyzed—but perhaps one hundred million citizens suffer chronic disease or disability.

When Palo Alto’s Bob Klein inspired Proposition 71, the California Stem Cells for Research and Cures Initiative, Roman had to be a part of it.

His persuasive powers went to to work.  Always a good salesman, he would drive his power chair up to strangers on the street, smiling at them-- while demanding their signatures of support for California’s stem cell program.  

It is pretty hard to say no to my son! When he was a boy, he would help his sister Desiree’ sell Girl Scout cookies. People would buy from him, and then give the cookies back, the box unopened—so Roman could sell them again.

Roman was featured in an advertisement for Prop 71, directed by legendary Jerry Zucker, famous for such films as GHOST  and AIRPLANE.

And when the California stem cell program needed a few words to sum up its mission, it was Roman’s suggestion: “Turning Stem Cells Into Cures”, which became the official motto.

Battling for cure sums up Roman’s approach to life:  that to solve a problem is better than to complain about it.

He understands the nuts-and-bolts aspects of everyday politics as well, serving as Commissioner of Health and Recreation for Fremont. The grueling hours and late night meetings are part of the price: to get things done.

Using his experience with the politics of research, he helped develop spinal cord injury and stem cell research programs in Alabama, home of TJ Atchison, first person in the world to receive embryonic stem cells as a therapy. The treatment administered to Atchison was the same one developed by Hans Keirstead, on a grant from “Roman’s Law”. The Alabama Institute of Medicine (AIM) was also begun and developed with his enthusiastic  leadership and continual support.

But it is when things go wrong, that you find out who a person really is.

When the funding ran out for the law named after him, Roman made the four hour commute to Sacramento, meeting with the legislative aides of every member of the Assembly and Senate, again and again. The program was renewed unanimously in 2005, and signed into law by Governor Schwarzenegger.

But in 2010, although the program was unanimous approved for renewal, there was no money for it.

Give up? Not in his vocabulary.

In  three separate efforts--2011, 20012, and 2013--  Roman tried to renew funding for the program. But the bill was defeated—first in a close Appropriations  Committee vote, and then, astonishingly, vetoed by Governor Brown, twice! --even after its unanimous passage by the California Senate.  

That was when Roman decided he needed to fight from the inside. Like the middle-linebacker he had been in football, who would go through a line of blockers to bring down a runner, he wanted to take on the challenges, personally.

That’s why Roman Reed is on the ballot now, running for California State Senator, District 10.

Roman’s Mexican-American mother, Gloria Aceves Reed, raised Roman to believe in himself, and never give up.

As a member of America’s disability community, he knows what it is to face limitations, and to overcome them.

Roman’s life, and his response to it, has prepared him for this challenge.  

There is a saying attributed to John F. Kennedy : “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”

Roman Reed’s goal is to turn on the lights for everyone.

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