‘I would do anything . . . if there was any chance’

Published: February 14, 2004
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Eric Coffman, of Denver, was a 19-year-old Colorado School of Mines student when he damaged his spinal cord snowboarding in 2001.

He flew to Israel to get experimental macrophage injections. “I was the fourth person to ever have it done,” said Coffman. “They told me it might take a few weeks or a few months to see if the injections had done some good.”

But after a few months, it became apparent he was getting no feeling below the injury.

“It was discouraging,” said Coffman. “It was just devastating, really.”

Nonetheless, “I’m definitely happy I did it,” said Coffman, who has returned to school as a mechanical engineering major. If he hadn’t, he said, he would be haunted by “what if’s.”

And he’s glad doctors are doing Phase II trials at Craig for others with spinal cord injuries.

“Spinal cords in general are like a giant mystery,” Coffman said. “This is a good stepping stone. It’s produced some results they haven’t gotten from anything else.”

Still, he added, “It doesn’t look to be the Holy Grail at this point.”

Coffman still has an active lifestyle, by any measure. He’s been skiing or snowboarding since he was 3, and hasn’t stopped. Now, he hits the slopes on a device designed for skiers who don’t have the use of their legs.

Last summer he was an intern at Ball Aerospace.

He gets around in a wheelchair and plays guitar in the nascent punk band, Table for One.

Coffman said that among paraplegics and quadriplegics, views on the likelihood of a cure vary from unrealistically optimistic to darkly pessimistic.

He tries to maintain a middle ground.

“I’ve heard estimates of 20 to 30 years” before doctors find a breakthrough that can rebuild the spinal cord, he said.

He believes stem cells hold the most promise for people who have lived with their injuries for a while, adding that he’d be happy to be a guinea pig. “I would do anything . . . if there was any chance.”

“I’m a big proponent of medical research – in all fields, really.”

Bill Scanlon