Opinion

Brooke Ellison, Prominent Disability Rights Advocate, Is Dead at 45

Brooke Ellison, who after being paralyzed from the neck down by a childhood car accident went on to graduate from Harvard and became a professor and devoted disability rights advocate, died on Sunday in Stony Brook, N.Y. She was 45.

Her death, in a hospital, was caused by complications of quadriplegia, her mother, Jean Ellison, said.

As an 11-year-old, Brooke had been taking karate, soccer, cello and dance lessons and singing in a church choir. But on Sept. 4, 1990, she was struck by a car while running across a road near her Long Island home in Rockville Centre, in Suffolk County. Her skull, spine and almost every major bone in her body were fractured.

After waking from a 36-hour coma, she spent six weeks in the hospital and eight months in a rehabilitation center. And for the rest of her life she was dependent on a wheelchair operated by a tongue-touch keypad, a respirator that delivered 13 breaths a minute and ultimately a voice-activated computer to write.

“If she even survived,” her mother said in a phone interview, “at first we thought she would have no cognition at all.”

But Brooke recovered better than expected. Her first words after waking in the hospital were “When can I get back to school?” and “Will I be left back?”

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