“One of the few guarantees in life is that it will never turn out the way we expect. But, rather than let the events in our lives define who we are, we can make the decision to define the possibilities in our lives.”
A HISTORY OF CHALLENGE AND RESILIENCE
Brooke Ellison has lived her life by that idea, and has worked to instill it those she meets. Brooke grew up on Long Island, and for the first 11 years of her life, was involved in so many of the activities that characterize childhood. She studied dance and karate. She sang in the church choir and played the cello. She played little league baseball and soccer. But all of that changed on Sept. 4th of 1990 when she was hit by a car while she was on her way home from school. The accident left her paralyzed from the neck down and dependent on a ventilator. Despite her physical situation, Brooke was determined to continue with her life, and continue to make a difference. After spending nearly one year in the hospital, recovering from her injuries and adjusting to her new life, Brooke returned home and focused on her education.
When Brooke returned to school, she was welcomed by friends she had missed and found an environment that allowed her to thrive. In 2000, ten years after her accident, Brooke graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University. Brooke graduated with a degree in cognitive neuroscience, a combined major of psychology and biology. She gave a commencement address for her Harvard graduation in June of 2000.
BROOKE ELLISON’S STORY
In January of 2002, Brooke and her mother, Jean Ellison, published a book entitled The Brooke Ellison Story, which documents their family’s experiences from the day of Brooke’s accident until their graduation from Harvard in 2000. Their book subsequently was made into a movie, directed by Christopher Reeve, which first aired on A&E on Oct. 25th of 2004. Brooke has continued her education by graduating from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government with a Masters degree in Public Policy.
Since her graduation from Harvard in 2000, Brooke has worked as a public speaker, delivering the message of hope and motivation, and strength in the face of obstacles. Her audiences have been many and diverse, as she has spoken to members of the medical community, business corporations, politicians, community members, students, and nonprofit organizations, traveling across the country to do so. Although the specific message differs from audience to audience, Brooke focuses her attention on hope and motivation, using her own experiences as a vehicle to convey the message.
HOPE IN PRACTICE
In November of 2006, Brooke ran for New York State Senate, focusing her attention on the issues of health care, education, and funding for stem cell research. Her campaign was endorsed by the New York Times, and was highlighted on the TODAY Show. Just as Brooke had overcome challenges in her life, she sought to help the state of New York overcome its challenges. Brooke based her campaign on restoring a sense of hope to politics, with the belief that government has an important and problem-solving role in our lives.
Since the field of human embryonic stem cell research has been in existence, Brooke has been a steadfast advocate and supporter of this promising work. Appearing on Larry King Live in 2004, Brooke spoke at length about the importance of public funding for embryonic stem cell research. During her 2006 state Senate campaign, Brooke campaigned extensively on the stem cell funding issue, holding press conferences and public events with gubernatorial candidate Eliot Spitzer and lieutenant gubernatorial candidate, David Paterson. In 2007, Brooke delivered the keynote address at the World Stem Cell Summit in Boston, MA, before an audience of leading stem cell scientists, policymakers, advocates, and pharmaceutical representatives.
Brooke continued her work as stem cell research advocate and public speaker by founding a now-retired nonprofit organization, The Brooke Ellison Project. Through this organization, Brooke conducted speeches and community forums on the basics of stem cell research and its promise for the future of medicine. Working with director, Jimmy Siegel from A-Political Productions, The Brooke Ellison Project produced a documentary, entitled Hope Deferred, about the research and the lives it might benefit. This documentary film has been screened all across the country, and was the recipient of the Humanitarian Award in the Long Island Film Festival, and The “Mass Impact” Award in the Boston Film Festival.
Brooke’s work as a stem cell research advocate precipitated her involvement in a public forum event conducted by the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, and several similar events conducted by the New York Stem Cell Foundation. It has been as a result of this work that Brooke was inducted into the Suffolk County Women’s Hall Of Fame, was presented with the Inspiration Award at the 2008 World Stem Cell Summit, and was announced as a New York State Woman of Distinction. In May of 2011, Brooke will receive an honorary doctorate from Rutgers University as a result of the work she has done in this field. During the 2008 presidential election, Brooke was approached by the Obama campaign to offer input on recommendations for a federal stem cell policy. In 2010, in response to the prohibitive court ruling overturning President Obama’s stem cell policy, Brooke held a press conference with Congressman Steve Israel at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories on the importance of congressional action. Brooke has written and been interviewed extensively on this issue, appearing on News 12, NBC News, WPIX, and Channel 55, and opinion pieces running in Newsday, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the DailyKos.
Now Brooke Ellison is the newly-appointed Director of Education and Ethics at the Stony Brook University Stem Cell Research Facility Center. Dr. Ellison has been immersed in the stem cell field for over 15 years, viewing this from legislative, ethical, and social standpoints. Completing her PhD in 2012 from Stony Brook University, Dr. Ellison wrote a dissertation entitled,” Lifelines: Stem Cell Research in a Globalized World”, which investigated the development of stem cell research policy in the US, UK, Germany, and China. In addition to serving as Director of Education and Ethics, Dr. Ellison is currently an Assistant Professor in Stony Brook University’s PhD program in Rehabilitation and Movement Sciences, and Masters Program in Healthcare Policy and Management. Her areas of academic interest include Medical Ethics, Health Policy, and Stem Cell Research.
In her capacity as a faculty member at Stony Brook University, Brooke’s research has focused on the intersection of medicine, healthcare, and society. In 2012, working with university colleagues, Brooke cofounded the organization, VENTure Think Tank. This organization is designed to provide policy and technological solutions for challenges faced by ventilator users and their families. This organization has grown to over 30 members from diverse disciplines and backgrounds. In addition, Brooke is involved in social-capital building for underserved communities throughout Long Island, working with colleagues to develop a Center for Community Engagement and Leadership Development.
The details of Brooke’s life have been widely covered in such publications as The New York Times, People Magazine, USA Today, Newsday, Biography Magazine, and The International Herald Tribune, as well as, such programs as Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood, The Today Show, Good Morning America, The Early Show, and Larry King Live. In each of these appearances, Brooke has expressed her desire to have an impact on the world, stating “wherever there is a condition of discouragement or inopportunity, that’s where I hope to be”.