Hope Happens Here: Francesco Clark

As founder and CEO of Clark’s Botanicals, Francesco Clark is ever on the move, juggling appointments and emails and deadlines. There are clients to call, products to conjure, shops to visit. It is work that Clark loves — work that once saved him — but lately, he knows something better still awaits him at day’s end.


The moment arrives when Clark is finally home, in the kitchen, considering dinner. As his partner Alberto Mihelcic-Bazzana plays the piano nearby, Clark listens for the sound of tiny feet scrambling his way. Suddenly, they are at his side, Elettra and Amedeo, the one-year-old twins at the center of his life.

Each night, the scene is the same. Clark cooks, Mihelcic-Bazzana plays, and the babies whirl around them. It’s nothing special — but it’s also a dream.

“It's like an enlightened sense of being,” he says. “I didn't know that I could feel this fulfilled.”

In 2002, Clark shattered his C3-C4 vertebrae after diving into what he thought was the deep end of a swimming pool. He was just 24 years old.

In the hours after the injury, doctors told the family that Clark would spend much of his life in bed dependent on a ventilator. His mother Mariella Clark knew better, warning them that they didn’t know her son.

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“I really don't listen to anybody,” Clark says. “Especially when somebody tells me that something is impossible. I can't help but think that they have no idea what they're talking about. Because nothing is impossible.”

Clark ignored the grim predictions, quickly regaining his ability to breathe without a ventilator and dedicating himself to intensive physical therapy.

The support of his tightly knit family fueled his efforts: his grandmother arrived from Italy to cook his favorite dishes while he was still in intensive care; his father, a doctor, reached out to colleagues around the world for advice; and his mother called the newly opened Paralysis Resource Center for help.

It was the first, but not the last, contact the family would have with the Reeve Foundation. Christopher Reeve’s work spotlighting spinal cord injury treatment and care — and especially his determination to change what was deemed possible — gave Clark a roadmap for his own recovery.

“Christopher embodied the unstoppable force,” Clark says. “‘No’ was not a good enough answer for the questions he would ask. He would challenge every scientist to do more and push more.”

 Clark closely tracked Reeve’s efforts, whether testifying before Congress to spur funding or chronicling his efforts to regain function through locomotor training. Following Reeve’s lead, Clark pushed his own therapists to not only give him more exercises but aim for greater progress.

But even as Clark regained muscle mass and some movement in his arms, a deep depression eventually took root. While Reeve was traveling to promote research, writing books and filming movies as he worked to recover function, Clark’s life revolved only around therapy.

“After a certain amount of time, you realize, ‘I have to live some sort of life,’” Clark says. “I couldn’t live only to wait for a cure.”

In 2005, Reeve died suddenly. The loss of such a powerful advocate and personal hero crushed Clark, but also helped push him back into the world.

“I needed to do my part,” he says. “I needed to do something.”

He shed the blue paper hospital pants he’d worn for three years and joined a local advisory committee for people with disabilities. He regrew the hair he’d kept shaved since the accident and reconnected with old friends. And he began working with his father to concoct a natural remedy for the stubborn skin conditions that developed after his injury.

“Working toward happiness every day became very important for me,” he says.

The challenge of creating skin care products brought Clark a new sense of purpose, and with the launch of Clark’s Botanicals in 2006, he embarked on the kind of thrilling career and success that doctors once predicted would be impossible. Along the way, he wrote a memoir — “Walking Papers; The Accident that Changed My Life, and the Business that Got Me Back on My Feet” — and became a longtime ambassador for the Reeve Foundation, helping expand its reach across the country.

“I ended up doing more than if I hadn’t had my injury and the reason is that it gave me a sense of fleeting time,” he says. “We don’t have forever.”

These days, Clark is savoring the fullness of life. The twins, who recently celebrated their first birthday, were born just after the June 1st anniversary of Clark’s accident. It is, he says, a collision of events “in the best possible way.”

Clark children

“It kind of feels like a rebirth,” he says. “The injury felt like a second chance at life for me. Now, having the twins’ birthday on June 7 just galvanizes the beauty that life can bring to you.”

About the Author - Reeve Staff

This blog was written by the Reeve Foundation for educational purposes. For more information please reach out to information@christopherreeve.org

Reeve Staff

The opinions expressed in these blogs are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $10,000,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement by, ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.