$10,000 Raised at Josh Basile Bash

$10,000 Raised at Josh Basile Bash

More than 150 supporters come to screening of “Murderball” to support paralysis research.

Josh Basile was surrounded by knot after knot of friends in the lobby of Bethesda Row Cinema Saturday.

Teenage friends — mostly girls — from his alma mater Bullis and other schools hugged him and surrounded him to chat.

THEN THERE were neighbors from River Falls, who also hugged him and introduced their children. Strangers shook his hand and were quickly indistinguishable from long-time friends.

In short, Basile was a hit, the center of attention, exactly the way he had been at gatherings last year and the year before. Except that this time he is in his wheelchair.

The event was a kickoff fund-raiser for Determined2Heal, the organization Basile and his family started this year in the aftermath of a beach accident that paralyzed him Aug. 1, 2004. The group will promote beach safety awareness, support new victims of paralysis, and support spinal cord injury research.

Determined2Heal sold more than 150 tickets for a screening of the film “Murderball,” a documentary about quadriplegics playing wheelchair rugby in the Paralympics, raising more than $10,000.

In addition to those that signed up in advance for the event, more than 30 people bought tickets as walk-ins, and numerous others spotted the Determined2Heal table, learned about the organization and made a donation on the spot, even if they weren’t going to see the film, organizers said.

“We’ve gotten a lot of people who have places at the beach … who want a lot more information and we’ve been giving it out like crazy. They want to get involved with the beach safety aspect of it, the lobbying aspect of it,” said Jane Altshuler, a former Bullis teacher who now works full-time with Basile and Determined2Heal. “That’s been very exciting.”

Basile said that the quickly planned “Murderball” event was meant less as a full-fledged fund-raiser than as a chance to bring friends together and start spreading the word about Determined2Heal.

“We have events that are going to be so much larger. … This was just an event to get everybody together, for them to see me and see how I’ve evolved and how I’ve adapted to this new life,” he said. I thought we would get like 60 people. We got over 150. I thought we were going to raise $2,000. We raised $10,000. I cannot believe how warm and how incredible this community has been.”

“Murderball” traces the U.S. “quad rugby” team’s fierce rivalry with team Canada and its coach, a former U.S. star. In a parallel story, it follows a recently paralyzed motorcross cyclist’s transition to his new life.

It’s easy to see the parallels between Basile and the people in "Murderball." The quad rugby players are young, mostly in their 20s. Basile is 19. Most of the players were athletes before the accidents that changed their lives. Basile was a tennis player at Bullis and Skidmore College. The players are affable, sometimes mischievous, sometimes crude, but not dragged down by their disabilities. Same with Basile.

Basile loved it.

“They’re not taking their disability as something negative,” he said of the athletes. “They’re being exactly who they would be if they weren’t in this wheelchair.”

In one scene in the film, Keith Cavill, recently paralyzed and not part of the quad rugby team, is surrounded by his therapists as he leaves the hospital to return home. They give Cavill a card and he struggles to tear open the envelope. It is an awkward moment, but he works through it, opening the card himself.

“I understand exactly where he is,” Basile said. “I’m proud of what he did. He didn’t ask for help. He’s gained his independence and that’s what you need to do. Any little thing that you can do, there’s no reason to have somebody do it for you. It’s all about independence.”

Members of Basile’s own medical team from Johns Hopkins University’s Kennedy Kreiger Institute were on hand for the event Saturday. Among them were Dr. John McDonald, the spinal cord injury researcher who also treated actor Christopher Reeve, along with Basile’s acupuncturist and his therapist Kim Myers.

Myers said she loved the film and was impressed by the number of people the event drew in such a short time. But knowing Basile, she wasn’t surprised.

“He’s got a great attitude. I call him the mayor because he just talks to everybody. Every kid, every new patient that comes in the room,” Myers said. “He knows more about the therapy than the therapists do half the time. He tells everybody how it works.”

McDonald and Kennedy Kreiger advocate exercise-based restorative therapy, designed to reeducate damaged nerves to conduct signals to paralyzed limbs.

“Most doctors only treat above the lesion. Doctor McDonald says work them below it,” Myers said. “So we’re treating muscles and body parts that people don’t think they’ll ever move. And we’re seeing movement.”

Myers, McDonald, and Basile’s family were among the few people at the event Saturday that knew the big news — Basile had moved his right toe two days earlier.

“I just wiggled it once and said, ‘Oh no, this is not happening,’” Basile said. “I was like, ‘Jane [Altshuler] come over here.’ Tell me to wiggle my big toe.”

Basile moved it 35 times that day, five times the next day and four times the following day. He said that the number declines because muscles that have been out of use become overwhelmingly fatigued when they are used again, but that he’s resting it now and will practice moving it again in coming weeks. He has also begun to have movement in his upper quad and hip flexor.

“It was unbelievable. I can’t even tell you. That’s what true joy is, to see something like that,” Altshuler said.

Moments like that one are exactly what keep Basile and Determined2Heal moving forward.

“You really appreciate everything that you lost. You realize how fragile life is and how important every little aspect of life is,” Basile said.

Next week, he’ll travel to Hawaii and take a paraplegic out to swim with dolphins, a launching event for Adventure on Wheels, a component of his organization similar to the Make a Wish Foundation, but geared towards spinal cord injury patients.

It’s one of dozens of ideas that Basile has brewing, and the fund-raiser Saturday will help support.

“I couldn’t imagine it being better. So many people came out. Such warm hearts. It’s just awesome,” Basile said.