When 24-year-old Francesco Clark took a nocturnal dive into the shallow end of a pool and felt the full impact of his chin on the bottom, he knew immediately that something was very wrong. Paralyzed from the neck down, doctors announced that he’d never move from his bed or breathe without a ventilator. Defying their predictions, within days he was breathing unaided—the start of his miraculous recovery process. WALKING PAPERS: The Accident that Changed My Life, and the Business that Got Me Back on My Feet (Hyperion; June 1, 2010; $23.99; Hardcover) is Francesco’s inspiring story, celebrating courage and the extraordinary strength of the human spirit as he moved past “Why did this happen to me?” and found new meaning in life.
With unwavering determination and the caring support of his tight-knit Italian family, Clark set his sights on walking again even as doctors urged him to think small and limit his expectations. When he was told he would never leave his bed or breathe on his own, Francesco fought back. To avoid having his lungs suctioned, Francesco sang loudly for hours. He underwent controversial surgery in China, sought out cutting-edge physical therapy in the United States, and experimented with nontraditional therapy like yoga and meditation. He read about Christopher Reeve “smashing through the complacencies and prevailing pessimism of the way the medical profession thinks about spinal-cord injuries,” inspiring him further. Following a rigorous regimen, over time he has regained an incredible range of motion and continues to strive for more.
One consequence of Francesco’s critical injury, a painful skin condition—his body had lost its ability to sweat out toxins—led to a new career. Francesco and his father, a doctor, began mixing soothing lotions with natural ingredients. What started as a shoestring operation in the Clark kitchen with his mother and sister sampling and bottling batches of lotion is today the successful and award-winning Clark’s Botanicals. With its sought-after products, Francesco Clark’s skincare line is a darling of the cosmetics industry and has been featured in W, Vogue, Vanity Fair, Harper’s Bazaar, and InStyle, among other top publications, and is sold worldwide in stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and Fred Segal. Part of the Clark’s Botanicals profits go to support research for spinal cord injuries.
Seven years after his life-changing accident, Francesco runs his own company, continues to work on his own recovery, and gives back by serving as a national ambassador for the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, offering hope for others who have spinal-cord injuries. In Walking Papers, Francesco discusses:
- How he moved past depression and denial into a productive, forward-moving place after his accident
- The full story behind controversial surgeries abroad and nontraditional therapy at home
- The politics and science of stem-cell research and how they affect Francesco and other people with paralyzing injuries
- Tips for starting a successful business even under the most difficult circumstances
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