Sabrina Cohen, a C3-5 quad, saw her whole life change on Halloween in 1992 after she left a party with friends. All it took was being a passenger in a car (that decided to suddenly join in on a drag race) for her life to be completely altered.
The car hit a tree, with Sabrina breaking her C3 through C5 vertebrae. But even though she was only 14, she started honing her advocacy skills from the get-go. In this video you can see one of the first speeches she gave after injury, where she speaks to fellow high school students on the power they have to say ‘no’ to bad decisions.
Despite always holding out hope she’ll get better one day, Sabrina wasn’t about to let her life go on without her. After high school, she went on to graduate with a degree in Communications from the University of Miami and received a masters in Copywriting from the Miami Ad School. She also started her own ad agency SabCo Productions in 2003. But despite all of her academic and professional success, something was still missing from Sabrina’s life – advocacy.
Why she’s fearless
It took listening to a speech by the Director of the Genetics Policy Institute, Bernie Siegel, that got her hooked on the prospect of stem cell research and motivated her to found the Sabrina Cohen Foundation (SCF) in 2006. The foundation’s mission is to raise money, which they then donate to stem cell researchers. Simple enough and they’ve been highly successful. I love that even though Sabrina knows embryonic stem cell research is a highly a controversial subject, that’s never made her shy away from the issue.
Since founding the nonprofit, Sabrina’s foundation has done some epically exciting things. One of the coolest is the big names they’ve partnered up with. In 2004, SCF hosted a fundraiser with Michael J. Fox at her home (for John Kerry’s upcoming presidential election) and in 2009, Gary Payton (a NBA star) pledged to donate his winnings from a bowling tournament Sabrina. She’s even hob-nobbed and influenced politicians, including Bill Clinton.
Other than fundraisers, one of the big things Sabrina does each year is travel to the World Stem Cell Summit (I went in 2008 when it was in Madison and was able to meet her), where she gives a presentation on research she‘s funded. She’s been able to partner with several of the top researchers as a result, including my personal favorite researcher, Dr. Hans Keirstead of the University of California at Irvine.
It’s not surprising this born and bred well-connected Miami girl has been able to do so much on the issue of stem cell research in South Florida. She continually hosts well-attended fundraisers, like her annual CELLebrity doctors calendar event (sexy researchers oh my!) and themed cocktail parties. To date, they’ve awarded $75,000 worth of research money. It may not seem a lot, but the heart behind the money is worth more than gold.
Here’s a great video of Sabrina being featured on CBS News 4 (in Miami) for awarding their first research grant.
While a full-on cure for spinal cord injuries is still a ways off, Sabrina (and her foundation) are rolling hard into the future, and are planning on raising more money, as well as expanding globally. She’s also dedicated to keeping her body in shape and swims (like a good Florida girl should) and works out regularly. Best thing you can do while you wait.
Watch the videos