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Eight Forty-Eight

Stem Cell Issue No Debate for Paralyzed Man

President Obama's decision to lift the ban on using federal funds for embryonic stem cell research has been greeted with both optimism and opposition.

One Northwest Indiana man knows research from those controversial stem cells could possibly lead to a cure of his paralysis, but won't benefit from it because of his strong moral opposition to using embryonic stem cells.

It's almost time for the children at the Garza household to head to bed. But before they do, 8-year-old Michelle and 10-year-old Richie get close to their dad who's laying on his bed to ask him one last homework question.

[ambi sound of Richard Garza helping his kids with homework. ]

The children's father, Richard, is paralyzed from his torso down although he has movement in his arms and hands.

Once an avid runner, Garza injured his spinal cord after falling from a ladder at his home nearly six years ago while setting it up for a birthday party for his son.

The day before in injury, Garza had been cleaning out his garage when was hit in the head with a metal plate, that may have caused him to suffer a slight concussion but he didn't realize it at the time.

GARZA: I went up the ladder and it just caused me to pass out. And, that's all due to getting hit the day before. I didn't realize that.

The injury has been life altering for everyone in the family living in the town of Highland, Indiana, about 20 miles south of Chicago.

He once was active in his community and helping to run his family's longtime business, V.F. Garza and Sons of East Chicago, Indiana.

Garza doesn't leave his house much now. His wife, Veronica, is usually by his side.

And, he spends much of his time in bed, if not in his wheelchair.

GARZA: We're stuck here. This is basically the living room, dinning room. Everything is right here in this bedroom. And, it's unfortunately that the kids, we don't get to take them out to too many places.

Garza's children have faint memories of their father ever walking. Just thinking about it, his son Richie becomes teary-eyed.

Richie wants to become a doctor he says and he'd love to see his father walk again so he can go to his basketball games and catch a Cubs game at Wrigley Field like they used to do.

Richie thinks his dad will walk one day through research.

RICHIE GARZA: We do more advance, later in life. I don't know. Maybe they would figure something out.

But for Richie's dad, he's not sure if that something they figured out would be for him.

RICHARD GARZA: I don't know. I would have questions as to where my mind would be at at that point.

Garza's hesitancy is that although he approves of research of stem cells coming from adult skin cells, bone marrow or from umbilical cord blood, he is opposed to using stem cells from frozen embryos. And, that is at the heart of the debate.

Proponents say embryonic stem cells could lead to advances in a variety of ailments including Parkinson's disease, diabetes and paralysis.

But Garza, a Roman-Catholic, will have none of it, even if it could mean walking one day.

GARZA: What's more important, you walking or you taking away someone's life. It's a black and white issue. I don't want it.

Garza's stance is line with teaching of church doctrine and a lesson he hears at his home parish, Our Lady of Grace, in Highland, part of the Catholic Diocese of Gary, Indiana.

MELZCEK: The Catholic Church is really disappointed at the actions of President Obama.

That's Dale Melczek, bishop of the Gary diocese. Melczek says research of adult or umbilical cord stem cells has shown greater potential for good than do stem cells from an embryo, which the Church views as a human life.

Non-embryonic stem cells, according to the National Institute of Health, are being used to treat conditions such as cancer, juvenile diabetes and Parkinson's disease.

Embryonic stem cells are not used in any medical treatments but some researchers believe they have a great potential to treat any number of ailments.

Still more research is needed and that's the kind of research Bishop Melczek doesn't want.

MELZCEK: We believe that that decision by President Obama is not in the best interest of the human person, therefore not in the best interest of society.

The church's stance and Northwest Indiana's political leanings often contradict each other. The area is home to thousands of Catholics, and like most others in this region, they tend to vote Democratic.

That was especially true in November when northwest Indiana came out strong in helping candidate Obama win Indiana.

In fact, Mr. Obama's last stop on the campaign trial happened right here in Highland, just a few blocks from Garza's home.

[clip from Obama's visit to Highland in November.]

The President's stance on the use of embryonic stem cells isn't preventing him from being invited to speak at May's commencement at the University of Notre Dame, that famous Catholic institution just an hour east of Highland.

Garza supports the president's decision to allow federal funds to be used in overall stem cell research but would prefer that embryos be left out.

GARZA: I'm all for the research just through the umbilical cords and stuff that's not being used, that's not part of someone's life that can be developed from that, that's where I think we're going to get the success from.

People who knew Richard before his injury say he carries the same positive attitude about life and about helping others.

Garza's wife Veronica echo's that.

VERONICA GARZA: He doesn't try to chase the cure for paralysis. It's all about living. I think that's why he's not so much down.

[ambi sound from room beds this section]

As the evening winds down, Veronica turns her attention to a child she's babysitting for a neighbor.

With homework done, and kisses goodnight to dad, the Garza kids head off to bed.

For Richard, he knows his daughter and especially his son Richie, who he used to play baseball with in the front yard, love him for who he is not for what he can't do.

GARZA: The months when I was in the hospital in Chicago at RIC, I asked him what he'd think if your dad would never be able to walk again. He goes, “Hey, You're my dad. I love you dad.” That was enough for me.

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