Barry Siegel says he's living "life number two." Life number one started in Dorchester and Newton. While at Tufts Dental School, 42 years ago he met his wife Jane on a blind date. Their daughter is an oncologist at Columbia Presbyterian in New York City. "I worked hard as a dentist for 30 years. I became an avid bike rider to stay in good shape."
Early one morning, while biking, Barry was hit by a motorist. Life number two began as a quadriplegic, and Barry became a passionate advocate for stem cell research. "After I got hurt, I was very interested in what I could do to help patients with spinal injuries."
Other funders tend to give small gifts to support many different researchers without much coordination. Barry wanted to have a greater impact by finding the best people in the field and catalyzing their research. His inquiries led him to Dr. George Q. Daley at Boston Children’s Hospital. Through fundraising efforts with family and friends, Barry launched a new collaboration for stem cell research between Children’s Hospital and Hadassah Hospital in Israel. This partnership allowed for more intensive stem cell research efforts aimed at spinal cord injuries and other neurological disorders.
Yes, it’s personal, but it’s not just about spinal cord injuries. “I think it’s very important that everybody in America know that stem cell research is not only the cure for a spinal cord injury, but also for diseases including MS, ALS and Parkinson’s. Stem cell research can help with children’s leukemia, sickle cell anemia and heart problems, and I don’t know how many others! But it’s a topic that is so important to the medical community and to the public at large. Our government is losing the economic battle with other countries because they aren’t spending enough money on stem cell research.”
Barry was particularly impressed by the detailed strategic plan developed by Dr. Daley and Dr. Leonard Zon with volunteers from a task force of scientific and business leaders advising the Stem Cell Research Program at Boston Children’s Hospital. “It had practical goals and a specific timetable when they hope to be able to implant stem cells into patients. That really invigorated me and now I always talk up the Program and ask people to help me raise money.
“Everybody in the world has life-changing events. You deal with it the best you can,” Barry explains. “My goal is to help [Drs. Daley and Zon at] Children’s Hospital implant the kinds of stem cells patients like me need in order to regain function. I understand that I may never walk again, but if it’s one step closer to a cure and one step closer to helping other patients, it’ll be worth it. It has to start somewhere and hopefully, my fundraising efforts will be part of a bigger picture.”