Eric Gibson, Best Shot
By the time he was 25, Eric Gibson had been dealing drugs with an L.A. gang for 12 years. That year, he got sprayed with bullets from a drive-by shooting, which left him bound to a wheelchair forever. "It was the best thing that ever happened to me," he says now. "I told the Lord in the ambulance that if he saved me, I would spend my life cleaning up the mess I'd made."
And that's what he's done. After serving on the board of the National Spinal Cord Association for three years, Gibson received a grant in 2006 from the Christopher Reeve Foundation to speak to children in L.A. public schools. Now he takes time from his job as an executive sales rep at a medical supply company to wheel into fifth- through 12th-grade classrooms in underprivileged neighborhoods to talk with students about the tragic effects of gang life. "I'm fighting a war with very little ammo," he says of his quest to save kids. "I want to win."
Clare Rosenfeld, Speaking Up
When Clare Rosenfeld was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes – at the age of 7 – she was really scared. But her Mom said, "We can get depressed, or we can do something about it."
They chose the latter. Rosenfeld debuted as a group speaker three months later, served as the American Diabetes Association's first national youth advocate at 14, and, at 18, traveled to Third World countries to report on the devastating state of diabetes care. As a student at Lewis & Clark College, she helped initiate – and then advocated on behalf of -- the U.N. Resolution on Diabetes (www.unitefordiabetes.org), which was passed in 2006.
Diabetes strikes more than 250 million people worldwide today. "I consider this to be the critical health crisis of our [era]," Rosenfeld says. "In a way, I'm glad I have it. I'm at the right place, at the right time…My goal is that everyone who has diabetes now is alive when we get the cure."
Paul Villien, Healing After Katrina
Paul Villien, MD, is still engulfed in what he calls the "horror show" of Hurricane Katrina. The former medical director of the emergency room at Lindy Boggs Hospital, which was destroyed by flooding, Villien now spends a lot of his time in his car: He drives nearly three hours from his home in New Orleans to a hospital in St. Francisville, works a 24-hour shift there, gets 12 hours off, and then drives two hours in the other direction to a hospital in New Iberia to repeat the process.
"It's gonna take a long time to fix this broken city," he says, his drawl slow and rueful. "The doctors and nurses who stayed during the crisis found their own homes destroyed, lost jobs due to closed hospitals that never reopened, and are now scattered all over the globe." Luckily for Louisiana, a few like Villien held their ground.
Nohr Beck, Saving Fertility
Diagnosed in 1997 with throat cancer, Beck, then 22 and single, learned that the required chemotherapy treatments would render her infertile. "To me, getting married and having kids defined a successful life. I thought, 'Then, why bother? Why live?'"
Beck found a Bay Area medical center willing, for $15,000, to try the experimental process of freezing unfertilized eggs. She banked 29 eggs, and two days later began chemo. Four years later, she founded Fertile Hope, a nonprofit that offers financial aid and other resources to cancer patients seeking to preserve fertility.
Today, her New York City-based operation has negotiated deep discounts with sperm banks and 75 reproductive centers across the nation, and is raising grant money for scientific research. And Beck herself has gotten married and – after another bout with cancer, multiple miscarriages and three rounds of in vitro fertilization – given birth to Paisley Jane Beck on June 1, 2006. "She is why life is worth living. She is why I wanted to survive," the new mother says.