April 2017 | Injured Jockey Jake Chalfin Lobbies for Spinal Cord Research
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Injured Jockey Jake Chalfin Lobbies for Spinal Cord Research

Marcella Peyre-Ferry - April 2017

Jake Chalfin

Jake Chalfin has taken on a new role as advocate for PA For The Cure in support of spinal cord disability research. Facing his own paralysis, Chalfin personally understands the issues faced by those with such injuries.

As an amateur steeplechase jockey, Chalfin was paralyzed by a fall on Sept, 18 2010 at the Blue Ridge Point to Point Races.

The immediate financial impact of the major medical bills was huge, far exceeding medical insurance coverage. Chalfin’s friends and family banded together to create a fundraising committee and a medical trust.

Fundraising efforts helped renovate Chalfin’s house in Springdale, Chester County, PA, to accommodate his wheelchair and help fund his care and therapy.

“I’m very fortunate, I had a career and a college degree. I was fortunate to maintain the use of my hands. I could go back to work and support my family. Mine was a cervical injury, I’m lucky to have my hands at all,” he said. “I’m healthy, I do have my struggles with complications but I manage them. I have a wonderful wife, I got married about a year and a half ago.”

Chalfin has also remained active with equestrian sports. “For the mid-Atlantic region, I work for the National Steeplechase Association, doing clerk of scales. I’m also on the board of the Willowdale Steeplechase Foundation, and I volunteer at local points to points,” he said. “I try to support my wife’s fox hunting career. I’m enjoying watching her discover how awesome fox hunting is.”

As his life has settled into a pattern, the need to help make advances in the treatment of paralysis has become important to Chalfin.

“Once you get back into the swing of things, you need a breather to normalize for a while, and then eventually, hopefully you transition into giving back and being an advocate and creating change,” he said.

With the support of his wife Kate, Chalfin is contributing his efforts to PA For The Cure. Along with a team of other advocates, the organization is working to raise awareness and fund research. Advances in neuroscience provide hope for advances in this field, but funding is needed.

“They (PA For The Cure) monitor policy and research, bring the information into one place and make it available to everyone else,” Chalfin said. “Our goal is to get Pennsylvania to create a funding mechanism for spinal cord research.”

Senate Bill 31

At this time, PA For The Cure is working to pass State Senate Bill 31, the Spinal Cord Disability Research Grant Bill, which would initiate state funding in Pennsylvania through a competitive grant program for research into new and innovative treatments and rehabilitative efforts for functional improvement for people with spinal cord injuries.

“We got over the first hurdle, which was to get a senator to offer a bill and get it cosponsored as well,” Chalfin said. “It got introduced into the senate in January. That was a major hurdle. The next step is it still has to get voted on. We don’t know when that’s going to take place. It will happen sometime this year.”

Spinal cord injury research is not just about efforts to help paralyzed individuals walk again. There is also an impact on involuntary movements and sensation, which may cause health issues that impact life expectancy.

“We’re very specifically saying cure and treatment. We are not trying to fund research for a better wheelchair. A better wheelchair is fine, but it’s not a cure,” Chalfin said. “It’s not just about not being able to walk or stand up. Living with paralysis is all about bowel and bladder, sensation and circulation. Your entire involuntary bodily function is disrupted and that’s the hardest thing.

“Curative treatment for functional recovery is really what we’re looking for and it can start small. If we can get people better breathing capacity or get their hands back, bowel and bladder function back, that’s a huge leap forward and maybe that will eventually lead to bigger and better things like walking. We want to help people live healthier, more independent lives.”

The equestrian community can identify with Chalfin’s injury, and the many other riders who have suffered similar accidents.

As the bill advances through the approval process, supporters are encouraged to contact their state Senator and Representatives to let them know their feelings on this important issue.

“When we find it’s coming up for a vote, we’re going to need to put the word out there and get everybody we possibly can to call their state Senators and Representatives to tell them to please vote for the bills,” Chalfin said.

To learn more and help support passage of Senate Bill 31, and sign an online petition, visit www.paforthecure.wordpress.com.  To learn more about Jake Chalfin, visit www.chasinforchalfin.com, as well as the Facebook page Chasin’ For Chalfin.