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Omar Lugones

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Nick & Marc Buoniconti ---------------------------- My cousin, Lily Ugarte, Marc, and me

The photo on the right is very special to me. It was taken at my 40th birthday fundraiser for The Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis in December, 2014. To my right, is the amazing Marc Buoniconti, one of the most powerful examples of the triumph of the human spirit I have ever encountered. To Marcís right, is my brilliant cousin, Lily Ugarte. Today, Lily is a Clinical Care Coordinator at the University of Miamiís Jackson Memorial Hospital Medical Center. Back in 1985, when she was an Associate Head Nurse at Jackson, she was one of the first to treat Marc in the initial aftermath of his traumatic spinal cord injury. Iíll never forget how happy Marc was to reconnect with Lily on this night. His eyes lit up as soon as he saw her and I was reminded of the powerful bond between nurses and their patients.

If you grew up in Miami, like I did, and you were around in the 1980s, it's hard to forget that devastating moment in 1985 when Marc Buoniconti, son of legendary Miami Dolphins linebacker, Nick Buoniconti, suffered a severe spinal cord injury while making a tackle for The Citadel in a game against East Tennessee State. The injury not only left Marc paralyzed, he was initially given days to live. Nick refused to accept this. He promised his son they would fight. Out of that promise, The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis and The Buoniconti Fund were born.

More than 30 years later, Marc is, in his words, not just 'surviving,' but 'thriving!' This is a credit to his own unwavering spirit, his family's unconditional love and support, and a brilliant team of scientists led by Dr. Barth Green. The Miami Project, the spinal cord research center founded by Dr. Green and Nick Buoniconti is also thriving. What the center has accomplished in 32 years is nothing short of a miracle. Most recently, The Miami Project, at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, announced the publication of its first Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Phase I clinical trial involving Schwann cells used to repair the damaged spinal cord, in the February issue of the Journal of Neurotrauma. Schwann cells are essential for the repair of nerve damage, and long thought to be able to increase recovery after spinal cord injury. The trial, performed at University of Miami / Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, is the first in a series designed to evaluate the safety and feasibility of transplanting autologous human Schwann cells to treat individuals with spinal cord injuries.

When I turned 40, my friends and family helped me raise $10,000 for The Buoniconti Fund. Now, in honor of Marc and his tireless efforts to find a cure, and in honor of my cousin, Lily, and the millions of nurses who are the true unsung heroes of the medical profession, I am asking my friends and family to once again donate what you can to this amazing organization. I don't just believe The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis will find a cure--I know it will. It's just a matter of when. Until then, every dollar raised by The Buoniconti Fund brings the team one step closer to that cure.

Please help me stand up for those who can't.

Please donate to The Buoniconti Fund today.

Help me continue to #payit40.

Thank you.

Omar Lugones
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