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Ryans donate $1.5 million to spinal cord research

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John and Penny Ryan Leadership Chair to help make B.C. world leader in field

Local community champions dedicated to raising funds for spinal cord injuries, John and Penny Ryan are now the names behind an innovative joint initiative with the B.C government, private donors and one of the world's leading spinal research centres, based in Vancouver.

The John and Penny Ryan Leadership Chair has been set up to create Canada’s largest endowed fund focused on spinal cord injuries, community based rehabilitation, science and technology and a national network for scientists and doctors to share their discoveries.

The International Collaboration on Repair Discoveries (ICORD) and the Rick Hansen Institute announced the joint research trust with the B.C. government in the Ryans' honour at a luncheon in Whistler Wednesday. The announcement recognizes the Ryans’ hard work, dedication and financial commitment to spinal injury improvements over the years.

The Ryans have committed $1.5 million to the leadership chair and John Ryan said the contribution is money well spent.

"The people working behind this chair are the best in the business. The improvements and steps forward they've made already are staggering and with a partnership like Rick Hansen and ICORD director Dr. John Steeves, it doesn't get much better than that," said Ryan.

"I consider Dr. Steeves to be the Wayne Gretzky of the spinal research world. He's amazing, and Rick is a hero to all. He was my inspiration in doing the Regeneration Tour."

Ryan, a Whistler realtor and athlete, became a paraplegic after a car accident more than a decade ago. He and his wife have since dedicated their lives to finding a cure for spinal damage. They are well known in the community for John’s cross-Canada tour in 1999, where he hand-pedalled a bike from coast to coast.

The John and Penny Ryan Leadership Chair will see total contributions of at least $6 million over the next five years. ICORD director Dr. John Steeves said the Ryans’ contribution has spearheaded a win-win situation for all involved.

"There's about 300 people working behind ICORD and the chair pays a lot of those salaries. In terms of what we can do with these funds the possibilities are endless.

"About 15 years ago, 70 per cent of spinal injury patients made very little to no improvement. Now with the developments and investments, we’re seeing the opposite – 70 per cent of people are making significant injury recovery."

A recent point in case is a patient of Dr. Steeves’, former premier Mike Harcourt who was temporarily paralyzed from a fall off a balcony at his Gulf Island home. He needed intense treatment and care.

"Five months later, he's now celebrating his recovery from serious spinal injury by playing golf. His progress is very encouraging and testament to the fact money for research does indeed work," Steeves said.

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