"An Unbreakable Bond," could have been the story of a tragedy, but instead it is an inspiring true story of love and hope, and of the bond between a father and son that gave birth to a major scientific movement.
It tells the story of Marc Buoniconti and the quest of his father, NFL Hall of Fame Linebacker Nick Buoniconti, to see his son walk again. But it is also story of the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, a major scientific and research foundation, that had its birth in the accident that left Marc paralyzed 27 years ago.
The film, which was premiered at the Miami International Film Festival, was produced by multiple Grammy award-winning entertainment star Emilio Estefan and is narrated by his famous wife Gloria Estefan. It is a very personal project for Gloria, who narrowly escaped paralysis when her spine was fractured in a horrific bus accident in 1990.
NBC newscasters Tom Brokaw and Bob Costas, along with legendary coach Don Shula, and other celebrities and NFL legends that played football with Nick Buoniconti also attended the March 11 premiere. Brokaw hailed the film, saying that the Buoniconti's story goes beyond "what you will see on the screen." "This story is a reminder of how this country was built. It was built on big ideas that unite us, not small ideas that divide us," Brokaw said.
In 1985, Marc Buoniconti was a starter playing for The Citadel when he collided with Herman Jacobs, who tackled him in an otherwise unremarkable game. (Spoiler alert: the forging of the resulting bond between Marc and Jacobs is also unforgettable and resulted in the presence of a smiling Jacob walking the red carpet that night as well.)
As the film reveals, Buoniconti was not only rendered a quadriplegic but was also expected to die. His family raced to his side. His father, refusing to give up hope, desperately searched for a doctor that would help. Finally, he reached neurosurgeon Dr. Barth Green, at the University of Miami's Jackson Hospital. "Bring him here," Green insisted, even though other doctors warned it was futile.
Although Marc remains paralyzed todody, the film shows him carrying on his fulfilling work as president of the Miami Project. But the documentary also provides unflinching look at his daily life of as a quadriplegic, unable to move anything below his neck. Although Marc tells the camera that "I dream every night that I am running," the film shows how he needs help to even be put in a sitting position to have his teeth brushed.
The film also revisits the grief his family experienced. His mother, Terry, tearfully recounts how she begged her eldest son, who was carving out a football career at Duke at the time, to quit the sport, telling him she couldn't bear to see another son on the field, and Nick Jr. tells how he immediately acquiesced to his mother's wishes.
Many in the audience at the world premiere were also those living with paralysis. They included Sabrina Cohen who, like Marc, is nationally known health advocate. "The ripple effect paralysis leaves on parents, siblings, and friends is equally as powerful and as life changing as the injury itself," she said. "This movie shows that although the population of people with spinal cord injuries is relatively small, the amount of people who are devastated is astronomical," added Cohen, who is the head of the Sabrina Cohen Foundation, which works to improve life for the disabled.
But there are clearly triumphs in the film as well. Although the cure for paralysis remains elusive, great strides are being made, and the discoveries of the Miami Project are now put into use to help not only the disabled, but also those who are felled by stroke and heart attack.
"An Unbreakable Bond," now goes to film festivals around the world to help promote awareness for spinal cord injuries, and no doubt will reach the broader audience that needs to see this picture.
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