Man triumphs over tragedy, supports others

RANCHO SANTA FE — Eric Northbrook said his goal is to walk his daughter down the aisle. Right now she is 9. His daughter’s wedding may seem like a long time from now, but he knows time passes quickly and that spinal cord injury research goes slowly.
Still, he keeps his head up and helps fund research through HeadNorth, the organization he founded with his wife Denise in 2006. That was the year Northbrook suffered a spinal cord injury in a motorcycle accident, paralyzing him from the chest down.
“It’s the classic story. It was the last run of the day,” he said of that dirt bike ride in the desert. “I was going too fast. I hit some rocks. I knew immediately I was paralyzed.”
The outpouring of financial support for the injured commercial Real Estate broker was amazing, but the couple soon learned there was no place to turn to that could give them advice or tell them what came next.
The couple established HeadNorth with the donations so that it could provide not only financial assistance, but also peer support to those who found themselves in the same situation, facing the daily challenges of living with their injury and paralysis, he said.
HeadNorth hosted its sixth annual Golf Invitational at The Crosby at Rancho Santa Fe June 12 and June 13. It is the biggest fundraiser of the year for the organization. Northbrook said he expected about $300,000 to be raised between the golf tournament and cocktail reception.
“All of the money goes directly to our programs,” he said.
One of the programs is with the Sanford Burnham Medical Research Institute at University of California San Diego and Harvard University, which is striving to find a cure for paralysis.
A highlight of the evening was the introduction of Jerlena Bailey and her family, who were given a specially equipped van from HeadNorth to get Jerlena, 9, back and forth to school and doctors appointments.
Her story is touching. She was hit by a car five years ago while crossing the street in front of her house.
“Her mother gave up on her when she was 5,” said her legal guardian, Trelena Thomas, who met Jerlena and her younger sister Ashanti, 7, in an orphanage where she was working.
“She (Jerlena) asked me not to leave her and I didn’t,” Thomas said.
The van has been more than important to the family.
“It allows us to keep our family together,” Thomas said.
It was difficult to transport her on public transportation, on which the family relied.
“The state started to step in. They were talking about putting her into a convalescent hospital,” Thomas said. Since she now has the proper transportation, the issue has been solved, thanks to HeadNorth. Now she will even be able to take part in after school activities with her classmates at Lindberg-Schweitzer Elementary School. “To our family, it has given us a new life.”
About 200 people attended the cocktail reception where bidding was lively on such items as tickets to the upcoming Katy Perry and Taylor Swift concerts, golf vacations in exotic locales, a place on a luxury yacht during the America’s Cup and two days in New York including a tour of the stock exchange.
Another highlight was the golf ball drop from a helicopter onto the 18th hole of the golf course — an unusual way to conduct a raffle.
“The Golf Invitational is our largest annual fundraising event, and raises direct program funding for the year to help individuals have peer mentoring support and financial assistance for equipment and services like wheelchairs, physical therapy, and car and home modifications to promote an active and productive lifestyle,” said Michele Bart, executive director of the organization. “Last year’s event raised $250,000 to provide help for people. We are on track to do the same this year.”
This year’s event was dedicated to Denise Northbrook who passed away last year from cancer. Each couple attending were given a candle as a way to keep her legacy shining on.
To learn more about HeadNorth, call (858) 350-5199 or visit headnorth.org

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