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Interview With Brooke Ellison

Aired October 18, 2004 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, Christopher Reeve's last movie was inspired by her miraculous true life story. She was a vibrant, active 11-year-old until she was hit by a car and paralyzed from the neck down. She went into a coma. But she beat the odds, not just surviving, but graduating from Harvard with honors.
She's Brooke Ellison. And she inspired Christopher Reeve, and she'll inspire you too when she's here for the hour with your phone calls next on LARRY KING LIVE.

The amazing Brooke Ellison. She was paralyzed from the neck down at age 11. We'll get that whole story. She earned a bachelor's and master's degree from Harvard, currently a Ph.D. candidate at Stony Brook University. Her life story has become a film for the A&E network directed by the late Christopher Reeve. It's titled "The Brooke Ellison Story," and it's based on the memoir "Miracles Happen: One Mother, One Daughter, One Journey," which Brooke co-wrote with her mother, Jean. It will premiere Monday, October 25, at 8:00 p.m. Eastern on A&E, and Chris Reeve, who died of heart failure on October 10, directed the movie.

Did you get, Brooke, to know Chris pretty well?

BROOKE ELLISON, PARALYZED AT AGE 11 FROM NECK DOWN: I did. I did. Over the past four years, since we initially met in 2000. We got to know each other pretty well. I think it's almost a natural thing when two people are undergoing such similar circumstances and such similar adversity, it's hard not to get to know someone pretty well.

KING: Did you go and watch him direct the film? Did you go to the set?

ELLISON: We did, yeah. My entire family, actually, went down to New Orleans where the movie was being shot. It actually took us three days to drive down there. And it was just so incredible. It was -- we were down there for, I guess, around two and a half weeks or so, and got to see a good portion of the filming. And everybody down there was just so dedicated to the project, starting with Chris himself, obviously. He just was so passionate about what he was doing. It was really incredible to see. A little bit surreal, to say the least, but it was really incredible.

KING: Are you in the same kind of chair, an apparatus that he was in? ELLISON: Yeah. Very similar, actually. I use technology that he didn't really use. I use a tongue touch keypad, it's called, and that's how I operate my wheelchair, or use the computer, or all those kinds of technical devices. That's what I use. He never sought out that technology. But for the most part, everything else is pretty much the same. It's a pretty big wheelchair, with a vent on the back. And everything pretty much is the same.

KING: By the way, Brooke Ellison is on the board of the National Organization on Disability, as was Chris Reeve. What will his -- what will Christopher Reeve's legacy be, do you think, Brooke, before we talk about your story?

ELLISON: Chris' legacy. Well, I think that probably the natural reaction would be to say his -- the work that he has done for stem cell research, for people with physical disabilities. That would probably be the natural reaction. And that probably would be what people would judge from a distance.

But when you're looking at him up close, I would say his family. His family is really just -- what a wonderful group of people. And you can see how he interacts with his son or how he -- his little one, Will, when we were down in New Orleans, we got to see them interact a lot. And it just -- it was such a natural relationship. There was no barriers or anything like that. That's how it probably would be -- what he would say is his legacy. That's what I would say, you know, no question.

KING: Now, he died young, of a heart attack. They said it was a problem -- what it was associated with were bed sores, some kind of pressure wounds, as they call it. Do you fear that same thing?

ELLISON: Yeah. I think anybody in a situation like this fears that. It's really -- it's interesting, I think. It's a seemingly insignificant type thing, when you're looking at somebody with disabilities from the outside, you're thinking, oh, a bed sore doesn't really seem like that big of a deal. But it really can take quite a toll on a person. Actually, I was fighting one that was pretty similar to his, when I was a senior at Harvard. And I didn't even know if I was going to be able to go back to school. It was just -- it was that bad. I had to get treated every week. And it's something that seems so insignificant, but it really can take quite a toll on a person.

And that's the case for a lot of different things that people in this condition face. You know, just, you know, between that or temperature fluctuation, going up, going down, blood pressure going up, going down, all these things that people don't really think about. Like this winter, I haven't been able to get a flu shot, and I have been able to do that for the past 14 years, since I've been in this situation. And I don't really know what the repercussions of that may be, should I get the flu or something like that, I don't really know.

KING: Wait a minute. You're not -- you're not eligible -- you're not eligible for a flu shot? ELLISON: I haven't been able to find one. I can't find one anywhere. I don't know. I think a lot of people are facing that situation. I don't really know.

KING: Wow, that's hard to believe. Have you seen the completed film?

ELLISON: We have, yeah. Yeah, just recently. Yeah. Last week. It was extremely emotional to watch, when you see yourself portrayed on the screen, it's hard to believe.

KING: How true to life is it?

ELLISON: For the most part, pretty true. There are some conversations that were tailored a little bit, or a situation that didn't exactly happen as they are portrayed in the movie. But whenever that were to happen, it would -- it's more to convey a point than to do something that was really fictitious. There's just a few liberties that were taken, but for the most part, it was, you know, my life over -- from 1990 to 2000.

KING: What was it like...

ELLISON: It was incredible to see.

KING: What was it like, Brooke, to watch someone be you?

ELLISON: It's so strange. I think people view themselves very differently than other people view them, you know, from the outside, looking in. So, to see how other people -- the different idiosyncrasies that people pick up on that you don't even really notice about yourself, it's really -- it's quite like a -- it's almost a little bit introspective, to see somebody portray you on television. It's really pretty incredible.

KING: Vanessa Marano plays you as a young girl, and Lacey Chabert plays the older version. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, great actress, plays your mother, and John Slattery your dad. How well were they portrayed?

ELLISON: Oh, incredibly well. Everybody in the cast was really dedicated to try to capture my family in a pretty -- in a pretty real way. My father had lunch and met a couple of times with John. He actually came to my house, and we had dinner with him. And he was great. He was great. And Vanessa, she was terrific. She's only 11 years old and really -- undergoing some really difficult acting work to portray me. It was pretty fascinating to watch. And Mary Elizabeth, she was incredible, she was so natural, she just really fit the part so well.

KING: A lot of the credit goes to Chris Reeve, who was a terrific director.

We're going to take a break and come back with Brooke Ellison. We'll learn her story. We'll find out her thoughts on stem cell research, a current raging subject in this country and in the presidential campaign as well, and we'll be taking your calls. Brooke Ellison and "The Brooke Ellison Story," directed by Chris Reeve, airs October 25th, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, on A&E. We'll be right back.


CHRISTOPHER REEVE, DIRECTOR: I thought it would be a good thing for me to tell one really good story about a family, an ordinary American family, dealing with a devastating event such as the spinal cord injury of a young child.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She sustained severe injury to both her head and her neck. She's not breathing on her own. And her EEG readings are flat. There's no brain activity.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jean, she's still alive. Where there's life, there's always hope, but I think we should be prepared, too.




REEVE: But you learn that the stuff of your life -- I mean, I was a sailor, I was skier, I was a rider. I did a lot of stuff, a lot of action -- was very sports oriented, et cetera. I traveled everywhere. And you realize that is not the definition or the essence of your existence. What is the essence are those relationships, those people in that room, that right there. While my relationships were always good, now, they've transcended. My son and I, and my wife and I. That's why I can honestly say, I'm a lucky man.


KING: Brooke Ellison is with us. She, by the way, earned bachelor's and master's degrees from Harvard. Before we talk about her going to Harvard and the accident, what are your feelings about the stem cell question?

ELLISON: I don't even know where to start. Right now, there are over 100 million people who face conditions that could potentially be cured with stem cell research, and I guess the way regulations are set right now, researchers who are working on potential cures are pretty much left with their hands tied. They want to pursue the research but they don't have the funding to do it. If we back track about three years, 2001, when President Bush first made his decision, he did it, I think, in a way, that might be a little bit -- might undermine the foundations of democracy that we hold so dear.

Actually, a dear friend of mine, at the Kennedy School, where I just graduated from, wrote a paper on this very issue, that the presidency is the issue and kind of in black and white terms. That's not to say it's wrong, but it's just one perspective of looking at it. And that's kind of the stem cells, either life or not a life. But that excludes a lot of gray areas, a lot of complexity. Granted, if, you know, a blastocyst that stems cells are derived from were to be inserted into a room and allowed to grow for nine months there's the potential a life could be born. That's not the case for these cells. They're kept in freezers for years and then discarded completely. They're of no use to anybody.

That's just one interpretation of life and to rob the stem cells of the other potential of life, which is to cure diseases or to help regenerate parts of the body that aren't regenerating on their own, that's really robbing life in a lot of ways. Right now, I think it's like 70 percent of the nation is in support of stem cell research and well over 50 percent are in support of federally funded stem cell research. The president's made a decision that's from one ideology, one camp, and, you know, we elect officials, giving them mandates to act on our behalf, and when a majority of the nation feels one way, the president acts in another, you know, it doesn't seem to really fit the democratic mold which so many of us hold so dear.

KING: Well stated on your side. Brooke, Chris thought he would walk again. Do you think you will?

ELLISON: I'm never going to give up hope that that's the case, definitely. All the work that Chris has done over the past ten years, I feel it will continue, no question.

KING: Let's find the Brooke Ellison story a little. Born and raised on Long Island, your mom is Jean, your father is Edward, you have an older sister Kristen (ph), a younger brother, Reed (ph). You studied dance, karate, you played cello, you sang in the choir, you're walking home from school September 4, 1990, you're 11 years old, just started seventh grade. What happened?

ELLISON: I guess I was looking to exert some independence. That was my first day of junior high school. And I was excited by that. For some reason, decided to walk home. And in so doing I had to cross a fairly major highway on Long Island, Nichols Road (ph). I was hit by a car I guess that was going about 55 miles an hour or so. And I was left with, among other injuries, a spinal cord injury. I also cracked my skull and had cardiac and respiratory arrests. Just a whole bunch of injuries. And my spinal cord injury, thankfully, is the only one that seems to be sustaining.

KING: Do you remember being hit?

ELLISON: I don't. Sometimes I think that I do. Sometimes I think that I can remember bits and pieces of that event or that day, and I think, thankfully, I don't remember much of it. Sometimes, when you don't remember an event like that, it's hard to believe that it actually happened.

KING: What kept you going, Brooke? An active girl, 11 years old. Didn't you -- you must have had enormous despair?

ELLISON: Not necessarily despair. There is a feeling of shock. A little bit of feeling victimized by life a little bit, but then it didn't take long for me to realize there was so much of an outpouring of love from my family, from my community, my parents were at the hospital with me around the clock, and for me to give up and kind of resort to despair would be to slight them as well. I wasn't living my life just for myself. It's more of a mutual complex series of relationships. And I couldn't just give up and not expect to give back to my family. I had to continue just for their sake. I'm glad that I did.

KING: Was the car that hit you at fault, by the way?

ELLISON: No. No. We did pursue that a little bit. We got a little bit of insurance money because of it, but not entirely, no, he wasn't found to be going -- to be speeding or have -- doing anything illegal.

KING: We'll find out how Brooke Ellison got to Harvard right after this. Don't go away.


REEVE: The story, I think, will reach and impact more people than me giving 55 speeches or going on national TV 20 times.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sound waves consistent of alternate readings of high and low pressure which are known as compression and what?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right you are, rarefaction.

Ladies and gentlemen, the winners of the New York Science Talent Search for 1996, Colin High!





KING: We're back with Brooke Ellison and we'll be go to your phone calls in a little while.

Why did you good to public school?

ELLISON: That's where I had always gone from kindergarten to right on through. So, go to any different school didn't really ever seem like a possibility to me.

KING: Then you apply to Harvard. Now, it wasn't academics, you got to 4. grade average out of possible 1,600 on the SAT's, you got 1510. But weren't logistics going to be difficult getting around that campus?

ELLISON: There are a lot of things difficult even just -- you never know when you're going to come across some kind of barrier that would impede getting around. But to have something that could possibly be overcome, get in the way of an opportunity like that just didn't seem -- fit into their -- of my personality or anybody in my family's. Everybody in my family were really very dedicated to helping me create a future for myself. So, I didn't want to be bound by any other limitations that I already was bound by, just my physical situation was keeping me constricted enough, but to let other things stand in the way just didn't seem, you know, all that reasonable to me.

KING: Your mother went to school with you?

ELLISON: Yes. I'm very thankful for that.

KING: Did they have to make little allowances? Did they have to renovate anything at Harvard?

Did they have to do things to accommodate your situation?

ELLISON: They did. They really did. They did more than was necessary. Yes, they let my mother come along with me, and she attended all my classes, and lived there in the dorms with me. And they renovated, actually, two rooms, one as a freshman, and then another as an upper classman for me. And then, actually when I was a grad student there, too, they renovated an apartment, so it was adequate for our needs. And yes, they didn't really seem to have any problem with that, which is what we expected to be the biggest complicating issue.

And outside of that, they did whatever they could to make our stay there as comfortable as possible. They would move classrooms for me, try to schedule events I could get to. They actually put in a panic alarm button in case anything would happen to my mother and I needed assistance or something, that I could hit in order to get emergency attention. All those things they didn't really need to do, but they did in order to make it comfortable for me and possible for me.

KING: You graduated with honors. You were one of three Harvard students chosen by your peers to speak at Class Day.

You wrote a -- how did you write? You can't write. How did -- how did you do finals?

ELLISON: Whatever papers I could do, I did on a voice activated computer, which worked very well. Outside of that, if I was doing a math test or something like that, that really couldn't be done on the computer, my mother would write for me and they would send a scribe or tutor to write for me and proctor my exams and all that. So, we got around the physical limitations pretty easily.

KING: What was your major?

ELLISON: Cognitive neuroscience, which was pretty much a combination of biology and psychology.

KING: And what -- and you're going for your masters now. What do you want to do with that Brooke? ELLISON: Actually, I got my masters in public policy at the Kennedy School of Government, and now, going for my Ph.D. in political psychology, which is almost like a melding of my undergraduate work and my graduate work. It's really fascinating. It kind of looks at decision making and how people come to collective decisions. And it's really -- it's quite an interesting field. And I might go into academia, that's kind of a forerunning option for me. If not that, I'm considering possibly running for office, for public office.

KING: Really?

ELLISON: You know, my life has been such that I never really know what to expect. It's been kind of on its own trajectory for years now. So to try to confine myself to one particular area is -- doesn't really make much sense. I don't really know where I'll be. But those are kind of my forerunning possibilities right now.

KING: Do you ever get totally accustomed to the situation you're in?

ELLISON: No. No. Definitely not. I always feel a little sense of frustration, sometimes more than others. And sometimes, I feel down by what I can't do, but it doesn't really last very long. But I certainly feel that.

When I dream, I'm always up dancing or running around, or feeling myself, you know, in physical totality. And so I don't think I'm ever really entirely complacent from the situation that I'm in, and that's not to say that I haven't come to accept things as they are right now, it just keeps me yearning for something more, which I don't necessarily think is all that bad.

KING: Did you have faith through all of this? Did faith play a part in this?

ELLISON: Definitely, yeah. No question. Hope and faith, I think, have been really part of my lifeblood. It's kept my entire family going for years now. And if we didn't have that, it would be very difficult to cope with everything. But it's...

KING: Yeah.

ELLISON: Faith and kind of a collective sense, a very spiritual sense, a feeling of common need for one another. You know, responsibility to one another. Faith, really, as love, as its basis, more than anything else.

KING: We're going to take a break and then go to your phone calls. We're talking with Brooke Ellison. She's the subject. Her life story became a film for A&E. It will air October 25th. It's the last piece of work done by the late Christopher Reeve; he directed it. It's called "The Brooke Ellison Story." It's based on a memoir, "Miracles Happen: One Mother, One Daughter, One Journey," which she co-wrote with her mother, Jean. It will premiere Monday, October 25th. It will be shown frequently after that. And we'll go to your calls for Brooke Ellison, right after this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REEVE: This movie is not just about a bright girl who made it to Harvard and graduated. It's about somebody who faced overwhelming challenges just in getting through the day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your work merits the unanimous approval of the panel. We're indeed pleased to award you summa cum laude on your thesis.





KING: Do you still think you will walk again?

REEVE: I certainly have the motto that nothing is impossible. I think the question of whether I will walk is going to depend on politics, it's going to depend on collaboration between scientists around the world. It will depend on economics. A lot of factors that I knew very little about when I was injured eight years ago. And I think my purpose when I was 42 in saying that I would walk by the time I was 50 was to be provocative, to be a voice saying, why can't we do this? Don't tell me the reasons why not.


KING: We're back with Brooke Ellison. I guess you would agree with everything Chris Reeve said there, right?

ELLISON: Absolutely. Absolutely. I think when you're first facing a situation like this, you don't really know what end is up. You don't know what's going on. You're (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of credence in what scientists and doctors say, but what Chris had done after his accident was really just really remarkable, to face what people are saying to him and say, you know, wait a second. That's not the case. You can't rob my hope from me. And I'm going to show you how, and proceeded to found this foundation that is funding so much research and creating so much hope. It's just really, truly amazing.

KING: Let's go to calls for Brooke Ellison. She'll be the subject of that major film directed by Chris Reeve on A&E October 25th. Front Royal, Virginia. Hello.



CALLER: I just wanted to ask Brooke -- first of all, I wanted to say hi to you, and to ask you, how do you handle your daily stress and when you get down? I have a child that has a vent and has a trach. And he just seems so happy all the time. And you look like you're happy, too. And it's just such an inspiration to me and to him. As a matter of fact, he's watching you now. I just want to know how you handle your daily life.

KING: How do you deal with humdrum?

ELLISON: Everybody faces that. Everybody has their own days of feeling down, of feeling depressed, feeling a little bit like, you know, the world hasn't treated them fairly. And it's just a matter of, for me, at least, changing my focus from what I don't have going in my life to what I do. And my family has just been so incredibly supportive of me, as have my friends. You know, they're just such sources of inspiration for me. And I know that they're making a difference in my life and I'm making a difference in theirs, and, you know, I don't ever want to give up on the fact that there is so much that I'm still able to do.

So it's kind of just like flipping the switch from, you know, not focusing on what is not there, to what there still is. And for most people, there is just so much, that it just takes a little bit of, you know, personal focus to really pay attention to.

KING: Toledo, Ohio, for Brooke Ellison. Hello.

CALLER: Hi, Brooke.


CALLER: Brooke, my wife was involved in an automobile accident about a month ago.

ELLISON: I'm sorry to hear that.

CALLER: Doctors say that she'll never walk again, and she'll be on a ventilator for the rest of her life. As you can imagine, I mean, this is very -- it's very hard news. What advice would you give families who are in this situation? I don't want to give up hope, but you're still surrounded with all this negativity from the doctors.

ELLISON: Right. Right. I know, I can understand that. And it's not to say that doctors are necessarily giving terribly foreboding news, it's -- they're trying to be quote/unquote realistic. But you know, there is always hope. You know, I don't know if you heard that clip from the movie, it said, where there's life, there's hope. And that's the case. That's the case. And when people talk in very categorical terms, like you'll never walk again, or you'll be like this for the rest of your life, it's unfair. And I never believe that to be the case for myself. And you have to always hold on to that hope. At least for me, that's been my strength.

KING: Is that -- it's very hard, though, you would have to imagine, is to be the caregiver.

ELLISON: Oh, of course. Of course. My mother has been my primary caregiver, along with my father, for 14 years now. And it is extremely difficult, very -- extremely tiring. Plenty of sleepless nights. A constant feeling of being almost like a supervisor, or on patrol, or something like that. And it's really, really difficult. So I'm so appreciative of my parents for all they've done for me. And I know, as hard as my days are, it is equally as hard, if not harder for my parents, because not only are they dealing with what they go through every day, but they know what I'm facing, and they feel that pain also.

KING: Arlington, Virginia, for Brooke Ellison. Hello.

CALLER: Hi, Brooke. I haven't heard why or how Chris lost his hair. Do you know?

ELLISON: I don't know.

KING: It wasn't cancer. I think -- I believe he shaved it off.

ELLISON: That's quite possible. I don't know for certain. I don't want to speculate on that. It's not really fair for me to say. I don't know if it was the result of any experimental medications, or anything like that, but, yeah, I'm not exactly sure, and I wouldn't want to speculate for any certainty.

KING: Ft. Morgan, Colorado. Hello.

CALLER: Hello.


KING: Go ahead.

CALLER: Hello, my name is (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and I'm 11 years old. And I admire you a lot. And you are an inspiration. My question is, how do you study?

ELLISON: Oh, thank you. Thank you. I study a lot, I'll tell you that much. It's -- when I'm reading, I get a lot of my materials on the computer, which is very helpful for me, because I can activate my computer independently, which makes a huge difference.

KING: How do you do that? How do you move your fingers?

ELLISON: Actually, I don't. I can activate my computer through the mouthpiece that I use to drive my wheelchair, which, you know, it makes a huge difference. It gives me that sense of independence that I don't have in a lot of other areas of my life. So that's -- you're really -- that works really well for me. So I do a lot of reading that way.

If I don't do it that way, then either I can get books on tape, which is really helpful, or I prop books on music stands, and things like that, and people actually have to turn the pages for me. So it's a lot of -- it's very time consuming, and actually requires a lot of remembering of things, because I don't really write things down. I definitely don't write things down. And so I have to keep things in memory for quite some time.

And actually, that's been kind of a developing thing for me, since I've had my accident, is kind of like a photographic memory, which has been very, very helpful for me.

KING: Thousand Oaks, California. Hello.

CALLER: Hi. Hi, Brooke.


CALLER: I was just wondering, the beautiful woman that you are, how is your dating life? And, second, I heard on a talk show host, you know, going on and on about stem cell research, we don't even know if it is going to be a success ever. It could be decades, and there's no hope. What's your reaction to people who have ideas like that?

ELLISON: I guess I'll take that question first. If you don't give it a chance, how are we ever to know? That seems like kind of a not a very logical argument for me. And I've heard it several times, people are saying, you know, we don't know if this is ever going to work, so why try it? But that doesn't make any sense. You know, how many times -- I'm sure we've heard that plenty of times in the past, in no matter what area of science you're pursuing.

KING: It could have been said about not just science, could have been said about any invention. How do you know...

ELLISON: Exactly.

KING: You can't fly!

ELLISON: Definitely. Exactly. The same point. It doesn't make any sense to not give anything a try.

KING: She also asked you about any kind of dating or romantic life. Is that impossible?

ELLISON: It's certainly possible. It's not the case right now, but I can say for certainty that I don't have any lack of love in my life. And that is what I, you know, base a lot of my life on. And it's not to say that it's not going to happen, but it will take a special person. I'm just holding out for that special person, maybe.

KING: We'll take a break and come back with more moments and more phone calls for Brooke Ellison. The program, "The Brooke Ellison Story," will air Monday, October 25th at 8:00 o'clock Eastern on A&E. It was directed by the late Chris Reeve. We'll be right back.


REEVE: It would be great if this film would cause families everywhere to think about how they're really doing in their family. What are the bonds? Is the love there? Are people really taking care of each other, and listening to each other and communicating?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm torturing you? Hey, I got to get out of bed every two hours and turn your butt like a baby, and I'm torturing you?




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just turn off the light, mom.





ELLISON: My mother has been with me every hour of every day, and has attended all of my classes, from freshman expos to senior thesis.

I am a matriculated student. My mother is not. I will get a diploma. My mother will not. Has she been any less enriched than I have because of these two facts? Absolutely not.


KING: Boy. That was the Brooke Ellison. That's not from the movie. That was Class Day at Harvard, talking about her and her extraordinary mother. The film is "The Brooke Ellison Story." Wow!

Chicago, hello.

CALLER: Brooke, you are extraordinary. In your opinion, what can we in the viewing audience do to help obtain the necessary federal funding for stem cell research which has so much promise for so many?

KING: Well, in California, it's on the ballot, right? 71, where the state can send...

ELLISON: That's right, yes. It's a matter of showing -- being outspoken to your congressman, senators and in the case of California, your governors, anybody who can make change. For those who aren't familiar with Proposition 71, it's to give funding from the state to research going on in California, and that hearkens back to a point that I made before, that people are almost seeing that how they feel is not necessarily being represented by the policies that are being put into place.

So, yes, it's a matter of speaking out, and writing letters, and voicing some kind of deliberation on this issue because it is so important. It has the potential of helping so many people that it really needs to be on the forefront. I thank Chris, among others, for his effort, his real tireless effort to get that issue on the agenda to begin with.

KING: Los Angeles, hello. CALLER: Hello.

KING: Yes.

CALLER: Yes. Hi, Larry. Big fan of the show. Brooke, you're truly and inspiration for all of us, healthy and disabled. My question is you have gone from childhood to adulthood with this condition and you look fabulous. Why did Chris Reeve look like he was degenerating? Was it age, medication, treatment? Because you look wonderful, and I wish you all the best.

ELLISON: Thank you.

KING: You'd have to be guessing that, wouldn't you, Brooke?

ELLISON: I really couldn't say for sure. I don't really know if that's necessarily the case. When your body undergoes such a traumatic experience like a spinal cord injury or something like that, and you're dependent on a ventilator, it takes really a tremendous toll on the body. Any extra strain can cause so much damage. I think that may have been the case for Chris, when he was fighting that infection that it was really -- it puts quite the strain on the body. If he possibly didn't look all that well, I think that would be the reason why but I couldn't really say for sure, and actually, when we were down in New Orleans together, he looked just fabulous. He looked really so healthy, and vibrant, and just really the embodiment of vitality in so many different ways. So I don't really know for sure. It would be just a guess.

KING: Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Hello.

CALLER: Hi, Larry. Hi, Brooke. I was a cast member in "The Brooke Ellison Story." And working on your story, Brooke and working with Chris really affected me. The wheelchair was a little intimidating for me.

KING: Who did you play?

CALLER: I played Barbara. I was the neighbor to the family who was with Brooke's father and older sister Kirsten when they got news of Brooke's accident. My question to you, Brooke, is you know, when you meet someone with your kind of disability, sometimes you feel like you're meeting the disability instead of the person. My question to you is, what's the main thing you'd want someone to know about what it's like being a quadriplegic?

ELLISON: I can certainly understand that perspective. I have lived on both sides of a disability, both with and without. I know what it's like. You can be a little bit startled by wheelchair, particularly one that's as large as mine, as extensive as mine, it kind of takes you aback. I understand that. But it's a matter of seeing people for their humanity, for who they are, as people. Everybody has something that maybe they're not necessarily -- they don't want to demonstrate to the world. When you're dealing with a physical disability, you don't really have that chance to hide it. You still want to be judged for who you are, as a person, for your heart and for your soul. It's just a matter of looking beyond that for however able you are to do it and getting to know somebody, getting to know their mind and their heart. That's really who anybody really is.

KING: Brooke, you had -- you're how old now?

ELLISON: I'm going to be 26 on Wednesday.

KING: And are you in relatively good health, despite the disability?

ELLISON: I think so. I think so. I guess one never knows what can happen from day to day, but I feel great. I feel great. I'm a little tired from schoolwork and things like that, but other than that, you know, I feel great. That's definitely a testament to my mother, who takes such good care of me.

KING: Get a good rest, dear. Thank you so much for a great hour.

ELLISON: Thank you, Larry. I really appreciate it.

KING: Brooke Ellison. You'll see "The Brooke Ellison Story" based on their book, "Miracles Happen, One Mother, One Daughter, One Journey." It will air October 25 at 8:00 p.m., on A&E. It was directed by the late Chris Reeve. Brooke Ellison. How about them apples?

Tell you about tomorrow night right after this.


KING: It's the defense side in the Peterson trial. We'll look at how they're doing tomorrow night. Bob Woodward will join us on Wednesday. Celine Dion on Thursday.

Right now, joining us from New York, hey, if you're going to be joined by someone, be joined by my man, yes, Mr. B. himself. I like the tie with the blue shirt. Nice look. Nice autumnal look.


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