Thirteen Years of Support for Spinal Research Barron County

Connections in Barron County

  • 63 UW—Madison students
  • 416 UW—Madison alumni
  • Also from Barron County:

Data Source: University of Wisconsin Service Center

For 13 years, Barron County has had a tradition of supporting spinal cord research through a basketball tournament run by Chetek’s own David Busta ’97.

The effort, which was chronicled at, has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for research done at the Waisman Center, and this year, Busta says they will widen participation by switching from basketball to a beanbag toss..

“The response has been overwhelmingly positive,” he says. “This will be a more inclusive tournament.”

Busta has a keen mind for creating and successfully promoting events. He left his hometown for the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where he graduated in 1997 with a double major in communication arts and journalism, with an emphasis in advertising. He immediately launched a successful career in Milwaukee and took a position with GMR Marketing, a large agency there.

One benefit of my time at UW was the lasting connections with friends who helped support me emotionally.

While working for GMR in the summer of 2002, he fell from a balcony at a concert he was helping to promote. The injuries to his spinal cord paralyzed him from the shoulders down.

During his initial work at a rehabilitation center, he teamed with old friends and basketball teammates from Chetek to create the David Busta Basketball Tournament and Silent Auction, which took place every Thanksgiving weekend. The proceeds were directed to pioneers of stem cell research at the Waisman Center, on the campus of Busta’s alma mater.

One of the UW–Madison scientists, Dr. Su-Chun Zhang, came to Barron County shortly after the tournament had been established. During the trip, Zhang spoke at Chetek High School and to local reporters. Zhang, who had grown up in China, and Busta both talked about their backgrounds. They began a friendship.

Years later they reconnected in a new way.

Zhang had a bicycle accident in 2014 that injured his spinal cord. He underwent surgery and weeks of intensive care before he was able, during rehabilitation, to regain the ability to walk. Suddenly he was the one asking Busta all the questions.

“In a way, it felt kind of good to be the one providing answers for once,” Busta says.

Both Busta and Zhang continue their work, supporting and conducting spinal cord injury research.

“One benefit of my time at UW,” Busta says, “was the lasting connections with friends who helped support me emotionally.”