Tim Reynolds is not just any ordinary guy. He has it all — a wife and three children, a house overlooking the Navesink River, and he works for a trading firm.
But Reynolds also suffers from a spinal cord injury. Six years ago, he was in an automobile accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down. His life was spared on Dec. 14, 2000, after emergency surgery at the University Hospital in Newark, but his crushed spinal cord was beyond repair.
Reynolds spent three months in the hospital, he said: a few weeks at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and the remaining months at Kessler Hospital in West Orange. His doctor at Kessler was Barbara Benevento.
“I was fortunate,” he said. “I had two great doctors looking after me.”
For his gratitude, Reynolds, 41, a resident of Monmouth County, donated $1 million last year to the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in Newark for a new research center on spinal cord injury, called the Tim Reynolds Family Spinal Cord Injury Laboratory.
Now, he has donated another $1 million, the hospital announced Wednesday.
Dr. Robert Heary, a neurosurgeon at the medical school and the director of the laboratory, is the doctor who operated on Reynolds a few hours after the accident.
“Most people don’t realize that more than 250,000 people in this country have seen their lives changed in a flash because of a spinal cord injury,” Reynolds said. “It is time we found a cure so that the people in wheelchairs now — and those who end up in a wheelchair in the future — can walk again.”
Reynolds’ life changed that December. After a holiday party in New York, he hailed a car service to take him home. Reynolds had fallen asleep in the back seat of the vehicle, only to be awakened when the vehicle crashed into the median on the Pulaski Skyway. Reynolds said the driver fell asleep at the wheel. Within seconds of the crash, the driver awoke but was too late in getting the vehicle out of harm’s way. Another vehicle smashed into the Lincoln Town Car, pinning Reynolds against a door.
“Spinal cord injuries strike at random,” Reynolds said. “No one ever thinks it could
happen to them.”
While in the hospital, Reynolds continued to work.
“As long as I had a computer I could work,” he said.
Reynolds was a floor trader for the American Stock Exchange on Wall Street. Then in 1999, he began at the Jane Street Capital company. He received his bachelor’s degree from Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif., and his master’s from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.
In the past, Reynolds was a marathon runner. He ran in 11 marathons on foot, and
participated in six marathons in the wheelchair, he said.
The new facility will initially focus on two areas: developing surgical techniques to
stabilize and repair damaged spinal columns, and using stem cells to regenerate nerves and restore neurological Motor function. The stem cell research will investigate the effectiveness of biologically engineering neural stem cells.
Because previous research has shown that stem cells have the ability to replace lost neurons but have poor survival rates, Heary’s team will explore solutions that include the creation of bio-engineered, protected neural stem cells and the replacement of damaged tissue with nerves taken from other anatomic sites, Heary said. New surgical techniques to be investigated will include adding scaffolds that will regenerate nerve growth to improve transplant survival. Heary is collaborating with the New Jersey Institute of Technology to develop scaffolding, a direct nerve growth similar to how ivy grows on a trellis. The scaffolding will be made from synthetic tissue.
“We believe that collaborative research is the key to the development of novel therapeutic strategies for this traumatic insult,” Heary said, adding that spinal cord injury has been identified as one of the key research areas in which UMDNJ will invest over the next few years. “The team of researchers we are putting together has been trained in the finest centers in the United States and in Europe.”
Although he remains wheelchair-bound, Reynolds still travels to work in New York daily. Through this center, he can help others.
“I am lucky,” Reynolds said.
BY TERRY GAUTHIER MUESSIG