Houston surgeon continues to help spinal injury patients after his own accident

A local surgeon spent his life helping patients heal from spinal cord injuries. That mission hasn't changed, after the unthinkable happened to him.

Dr. Rex Marco has been a world-class spinal surgeon and oncologist, a rare combination, in Houston for decades. Patients have traveled to Houston from all over the country for his help, for everything from severe spinal cord injuries to complicated tumors wrapped around their spine.


That opportunity to help patients in the operating room was taken away from Dr. Marco last year after he suffered an accident on his mountain bike. He says he flew over the handlebars and heard a loud crack, yet felt no pain.

He immediately recognized that he was paralyzed from the neck down. He thought of this catastrophic injury as some type of higher plan for his life.

“The injury didn't make sense, so I wasn't sure what the plan was. But I knew that part of the plan was to educate people on spinal cord injuries and increase awareness of spinal cord injuries and then to promote and raise money for research, so that we can find better treatments and possible cures for the scope for spinal cord injury,” says Dr. Marco.

Dr. Marco realized his mission would remain the same, to still help patients, just in a different way. Now he would share his unique perspective as a doctor and patient with them.

“When I was lying there in the ICU, I actually had visions of Christopher Reeve because I remember vividly how he would be on stage and even though he was on a ventilator and couldn't move his arms or legs, he was still inspirational and gave hope to so many people, including myself, decades after he was injured,” states Dr. Marco.


Dr. Marco began an endowment to raise funds for spinal trauma and tumors. Now he's joining forces with the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation to help fund research to find a cure for spinal cord injuries. 

“I think he reminds me a lot of his passion and his outlook on the world of Christopher in that Chris was a great philanthropist. When he was able-bodied, he had a great line where he said, 'You know sometimes you go and find the cause, and sometimes the cause finds you’. It's straight out of the script. He will be an amazing advocate for telling people how they should navigate their injuries, as we ultimately raise money for a cure under his fund,” says Peter Wilderotter, President and CEO of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation.

Peter tells us Dr. Marco is going to help them significantly and be an incredible resources as a peer-to-peer mentor. With Dr. Marco's seven-figure gift to jumpstart his partnership with the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation and more funds and research, Peter believes a cure for paralysis is possible. 

“I think we are seeing that in the early work that we're doing in the whole area of neuromodulation with epidural stimulation and with transcutaneous, which is externally focused, but there are those who survived injury and if properly excited, rewiring can actually occur and they can send signals up to the brain. So we believe that that a cure will occur in our lifetime,” smiles Peter.

Christopher Reeve is still known to many as Superman for so many reasons, and now the baton is in the hands of our local Superman. Whatever the plan is for Dr. Marco, everyone around him agrees, he will use his life's experience and knowledge to help others. Dr. Marco plans to advocate on everything from job opportunities for people with disabilities to helping them learn the art of mindfulness. He also wants to use his platform to raise awareness about prejudice.

“Growing up as a minority in America was one thing, but being disabled and experiencing the prejudice and bias that some people have towards disabled people, has been eye-opening and sad. I think with improved awareness and acceptance of all people will be one of the biggest things that our community can do, is to help people in our situation,” explains Dr. Marco.

Click here to find out much more and learn how to support his dream to find a cure.