On an average day, you might find Sabrina Cohen talking to local elementary school students about resisting peer pressure, scouting locations for an upcoming fundraiser or ensconced under an umbrella-topped table outside her local Starbucks, emailing her contacts at the Miami Heat in hopes of enticing basketball superstar Lebron James to drop by her upcoming “Bowling for Breakthroughs” event. Such a schedule would challenge anyone, but Cohen thrives on it. “I can’t just jump in the shower like everyone else.
Now 34, Cohen was first confined to a wheelchair 19 years ago due to a drag racing accident she was involved in. (She was 14 years old and had jumped into the backseat of the car, with kids from high school she didn’t know, hence the talks she gives to kids about peer pressure.) But her plight hasn’t stopped Cohen—if anything, it’s fueled her. Dubbing her wheelchair “a vehicle of change,” she is founder and head of the non-profit organization Sabrina Cohen Foundation for Stem Cell Research.
Cohen became enraptured with stem cell research in 2004. She had graduated from the University of Miami with a double major and opened her own advertising agency At her father’s behest, she went to hear a motivational speaker, and, during the program, Bernard Siegel, a stem cell advocate, got up to say a few words about it. “Our eyes locked,” recalls Cohen. She joined Siegel’s Genetics Policy Institute as its public relations director. Then, after two years, she launched her own organization. Sabrina
It was brilliant,” she says.
Stem cell therapy is still in the research stage, but scientists believe these “master cells,” which can transform themselves into any type of cells in the body, can cure disease and repair damaged tissue.
Becoming politically involved led to Cohen meeting Michael J. Fox a few years ago. “I said, ‘Let’s bring Michael J. Fox here.’ I didn’t know him, but I promised to bring him, and I did. This proved to me that nothing is impossible,” she says.
To raise money for research, Cohen uses her advertising skills.
“Sabrina gives researchers a reason to keep fighting, even when faced with daunting obstacles.
Cohen is now garnering national attention. In 2009, WebMD named her an American Health Hero, and this past January she won $10,000 as one of the five winners of the America Inspired competition, sponsored by Examiner.com, a Denver-based media company.
Still, after the contest ended, she didn’t slow down. “There’s too much to do,” says Cohen, adding, “Have I told you about my latest idea? It’s a walk-a-thon, but with wheelchairs too, so I’m going to call it ‘Walk n’ Roll.’” And, she adds, “I want to set it to music. I don’t think anyone’s done that yet.” And, with a quick turn of her wheelchair, she rolls back to Starbucks, to start making calls.
By Charlotte Libov