Top broker doesn’t let paralysis stop him from realizing dreams

Published: June 14, 2007  |  Source: headnorth.org
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Eric Northbrook is well known throughout the San Diego County real estate community as one of the region’s top brokers.

Now, the Cushman & Wakefield senior director is making his presence felt among those who have spinal cord injuries and the doctors and family who take care of them.

Eighteen months ago, Northbrook was paralyzed from the chest down in a motorcycle accident. He has been determined ever since to help find a cure.

“One of these days I’m going to be 5 foot 9 (inches) again, instead of 4 foot 6,” he said during a recent interview. “I’m a driven individual. I’m a firm believer it’s not what happens to you, but what you do about it.

“I’ve never looked backward, I’ve always looked forward. My goal is to walk again, and I’m going to do everything I potentially can to do that.”

Northbrook created a non-profit charity, the Head North Foundation, focused on enhancing the quality of life for people who have suffered spinal cord injuries and have limited resources. Since its inception, the organization has raised $800,000.

The foundation’s biggest fundraiser is its annual golf tournament. The second event will be held Tuesday at the Crosby Club in Rancho Santa Fe, featuring a four-man scramble tournament, silent and live auctions, and a dinner.

The 128-player field is already set and sponsorships for each hole and the dinner are sold out. Last year the event, held over two days, raised $330,000.

“You can’t raise enough money right now to help people that unfortunately have been in or are in this situation,” Northbrook said.

In addition to his foundation, Northbrook also is helping with a capital campaign to fund research for chronic spinal injuries. The campaign’s goal is to raise $3 million.

“They’re definitely making some progress but it’s a slow process, and it takes money,” he said.

Northbrook said most of the National Institute of Health’s grant money goes toward finding treatments to be administered within the first 48 hours of the injury. Treatment options for long-term, or chronic, injuries rely on private capital and charitable contributions.

“The way I understand it, stem cell research is one avenue of potential recovery,” he said, “but it’s so new, it’s not really applicable right now.”

Northbrook was injured Jan. 27, 2006, in Baja when the motorcycle he was riding hit some rocks, throwing him from the bike. He suffered life-threatening injuries, including a broken back, 10 broken ribs and a scull fracture. Compounding the situation, it took him eight hours to get to a hospital.

Undaunted by his injuries, Northbrook held a marketing meeting from the hospital’s intensive care unit less than 12 hours after spinal surgery.

He was hospitalized for five months, including a fourth-month stay at Craig Hospital in Denver, a leader in spinal cord Rehabilitation.

The 41-year-old father of two celebrated his 40th birthday from his hospital bed, a birthday he felt lucky to reach.

The two factors that kept him motivated were his children, Justin, now 8, and Sidney, now 6.

He talked with them nightly, using a videoconference hook-up on his laptop.

Four days after returning from Denver, the 18-year real estate veteran was back in the office. Within two months, he was working 50-hour weeks.

“With technology today, you can be just as effective,” he said, “and in my business, I physically don’t have to be in the office.”

He also works out twice a week with a trainer and swims on a regular basis.

Northbrook has received “phenomenal” support from his wife, Denise, while business partner Steve Rosetta played a key role in helping the family survive the crisis.

For the first year, Northbrook’s care cost approximately $200,000. For quadriplegics, the cost doubles.

Northbrook, who leads an institutional leasing team of seven at Cushman & Wakefield and is a commissioned salesperson, said San Diego’s close-knit real estate community has given him incredible support, even Cushman & Wakefield’s competitors.

He also has inspired others.

“It’s an incredible thing to see someone who is in a wheelchair just over a year, the things that he’s able to do,” said Karen Burges, coordinator of the golf tournament and a personal friend of Northbrook’s. “The strength that he has today … he’s quite an inspiring man.

“He’s always been one of top brokers in San Diego and has always been successful. I don’t think the injury is stopping him.”

Randal Schober, recently hired fulltime as executive director of the Head North Foundation agreed.

“To work with someone like Eric, who lives it every day, to know we can help individual people as well as provide money for research to find a cure of paralysis is very rewarding,” he said. “We want to focus on the local community so that we can have a long term relationship with our people, because the needs don’t go away.”

Schober said more than 10,000 people are paralyzed annually in the United States.

“I do it for Eric and also for the cause,” Burges said. “We hope that one day we’ll be a factor in helping someone who is in a wheelchair be able to walk again.”

Northbrook hasn’t let his paralysis keep him from an active lifestyle. Since the accident, he’s been skiing, snowboarding, ATV riding and, with the use of a special cart, golfing.

He regularly gives inspirational talks.

“It’s not about me,” Northbrook said. “It’s about my family and setting a good example for my family and never, ever giving up.

“There’s plenty of positives that come out of this, and I choose to look at the positive side of life and focus on that. My relationship with my friends and people today are much closer than they would have ever been.”

He advises his audiences to tell their family and friends how much they love them as soon as they can.

To find out how to donate or for more information on the foundation, log onto headnorth.org.

Copyright © 2007 San Diego Daily Transcript