Charity founded by Cranberry couple helps children with spinal cord problems 'Rise Again'
Six years ago, one physician gave Alex Brown, then 4 years old, a 10 percent chance of surviving the spontaneous hematoma that disabled his spinal cord.
Other physicians doubted that Alex would ever again stand or walk.
“We'd been told that Alex would never get off the ventilator,” said Amy Brown, Alex's mom, recalling medical professionals' grim prognoses.
“We just couldn't get the answers here as to what would happen next,” she said. “So we researched and went to different cities.”
At age 10, Alex now competes on the track team at St. Alphonsus School in Pine.
Alex uses a racing chair during competitions, but he now stands with the help of a walker after receiving progressive therapy at the University of Louisville Kosair Charities Center for Pediatric NeuroRecovery in Kentucky.
“That's where the research is. That's where the innovation is,” said Alex's mother. “They're making progress with not just Alex, but with kids from the world.”
Inspired by his progress, Alex's parents — Amy and Eric Brown of Cranberry — in the fall of 2014 launched Rise Again, a nonprofit organization, to financially support people similarly committed to recovering from spinal cord ails, and to help physical therapists in Western Pennsylvania receive training in new approaches to the treating of people with spinal cord problems.
A purse bash to benefit Rise Again is set for Feb. 6 at St. Ferdinand Roman Catholic Church in Cranberry.
“We've actually given out $3,400 so far in grants to two families,” said Amy Brown, 41, a recruiter for Dick's Sporting Goods Inc. Eric Brown, 43, Alex's dad, teaches history at Pine-Richland Middle School.
One Rise Again grant allowed the Browns — they also have a daughter, Abigail, 8 — to stay at the Ronald McDonald House in Louisville, Ky., for 12 weeks last summer while Alex received therapy.
“He has an interesting determination. He has an interesting will and drive,” said physical therapist Andrea Behrman, director of the Kosair Charities Center.
Alex reminds Behrman of a young explorer and scientist.
“He will report to you,” Behrman said. “He's his own discoverer. He's his own science project.”
Behrman praised the Browns' charitable initiative. “They recognize not only what their family goes through but what other families go through,” she said.
Another Rise Again grant allowed an 8-year-old Clearfield County girl to receive 20 sessions of locomotor training last summer at The Children's Institute in Squirrel Hill.
“We wanted to develop an organization that would be able to help people get to where they need to,” Amy Brown said.
“I feel that Alex is almost like a symbol of someone who has gotten better and continues to get better,” Amy Brown said. “We really feel that could allow other people to be motivated to try other avenues in order to find improvement.”
At the Children's Pine Center — a branch of the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC in Pine — Alex now is learning to walk with the help of his parents and physical therapist Erin Nock of Economy, Beaver County.
A body harness helps to support Alex's weight, and his parents each hold one of Alex's ankles, as a treadmill moves Alex's feet and his leg muscles absorb the sensation of walking.
“Through the walking cycle, we're stimulating those muscles that fire during walking,” Nock said. “This form of treatment is from the bottom up. It's a different philosophy in treatment but highly effective.
“Typical rehabilitation for spinal cord injuries is from the brain down to the extremities.”
Alex's parents named their nonprofit venture after a memorable moment for their son in 2014.
As parishioners sang “We Shall Rise Again,” Alex publicly stood up for the first time — while holding onto the pew in front of him — during a Mass at St. Ferdinand Church in Cranberry.
“It was a big step for him,” said his mother, recalling the smile that washed over Alex's face. “He was really nervous. He's always been a little shy about showing what he can do.”
Deborah Deasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-772-6369 or firstname.lastname@example.org.