In 1985, Miami Dolphins Hall of Famer Nick Buoniconti learned on a phone call that his son Marc had been seriously injured in a college football game.
“I remember the doctor said very, very coldly and directly, ‘Your son has suffered a dislocated neck’” Buoniconti, 72, said. “‘He will be a quadriplegic for the rest of his life.”
Buoniconti subsequently found out that there was scant support for research into spinal-cord injuries. So he formed the Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis in 1992.
The nonprofit’s annual Great Sports Legends Dinner, which will be held tonight at the Waldorf-Astoria New York hotel, has raised about $93 million in its history, including almost $18 million last year. The fund has raised more than $400 million since it began, Buoniconti said.
The event, which also honors sports legends, has become one of New York’s largest single-night fundraising dinners, partly because of generous support from Wall Street executives.
Former Allen & Co. Managing Director John A. Schneider served as chairman for the first dinner. About a decade ago, Tudor Investment Corp. Chief Executive Officer Mark Dalton became the chairman and helped attract more financial-industry supporters.
Paul Tudor Jones, the investment firm’s president and founder, and other employees also support the gala, as does James J. Pallotta, chairman and managing director at Raptor Capital Management LP.
“What drew me into this was Nick’s and Marc’s passionate belief that we could find a cure,” Dalton, a Buoniconti Fund board member and avid sports fan, said by phone. “It wasn’t about a parent who was just trying to make his child more comfortable. It was about a parent who wanted to cure the injury.”
Among the sports legends being honored are: the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Terry Bradshaw, New York Yankees’ Dave Winfield, Buffalo Bills’ Jim Kelly, golfer Nick Faldo, and Los Angeles Lakers forward James Worthy.
NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams will be the master of ceremonies and cast members of the “Jersey Boys” Broadway production will perform.
“Without the athletes, we couldn’t put on a successful dinner, and without the financial community, we couldn’t have a successful fundraising effort,” Buoniconti said.
The money raised by the Buoniconti Fund has helped finance the efforts of more than 250 scientists working on the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
In a Phase 1 clinical trial that started in December, doctors performed the first-ever transplant of Schwann cells in a patient with a spinal-cord injury in an effort to restore movement. (Named after German scientist Theodor Schwann, the cells help regenerate and repair damaged nerve tissue.)
“We’re not looking for this particular protocol to cure paralysis. We just want to make sure that there is no harm to the patient,” Buoniconti said. “The surest way not to fail is to be determined to succeed. We are going to succeed.”
(The Buoniconti Fund’s Great Sports Legends Dinner is tonight at Manhattan’s Waldorf-Astoria, 301 Park Ave., at 5:30 p.m. Tickets start at $850. Information: +1-305-243-4656 or http://www.thebuonicontifund.com/GSLD.)
Muse highlights include John Mariani on wine and Craig Seligman on books.