There are three excuses for why I have not updated my blog in over a month: 1) Every spare minute away from a full-time job and the four cuties that call me mommy has been dedicated to helping TJ write his story, The Human Candidate. 2) TJ wanted to complete a full month of Beyond Therapy in order to share his experience and update you on his progress. 3) He wanted to announce his plans of returning to nursing school in the Fall - something TJ has looked forward to since his accident in September.
TJ and I interviewing his classmate and friend, Mary Lauren Bailey and his Professor, Joe Farmer at The University of South Alabama in Mobile. *Brooke Helms Photography, MobileBeyond Therapy
Since January - when Day Program at Shepherd Center came to an end, TJ
hoped his application to Beyond Therapy would be accepted. Initiated in 2005, Beyond Therapy is yet another of Shepherd's boundary pushing programs. With facilities in Atlanta, GA and Franklin, TN, this rigorous program continually operates at full capacity - between 30 and 35 clients, each of whom receive some 9 to 15 hours of physical therapy a week. Yet with a perpetual waiting list of 50 names long, TJ
knew it would be some time before getting in.
It was during his follow-up appointment at Shepherd Center in May that he learned a spot had opened for Beyond Therapy at the facility in Franklin, TN. Though it was a long way from Chatom
- a little town in the pines of south Alabama, TJ
knew he had potential to do more and wanted to keep going. Therefore, the following Monday, TJ
, his mom, stepfather, teenage brother and 6-year-old sister made the seven hour trip to the hills of Tennessee.
had a "new goal to work on," to get better and stronger - both physically and emotionally.
His therapy began from the minute he arrived. In addition to Physical Therapy (PT) and Occupational Therapy (OT), he worked with specialists on strength-building and core exercises to help those muscles below the level of his injury recover and possibly demonstrate voluntary motor activity.Milestones
Going to therapy week after week, TJ
learned that teaching his upper body muscles to control his lower extremities was an exhausting ordeal. But he never once gave up. The gradual improvement day after day is what made it all worthwhile. "It was the little things like pedaling a bicycle for a few seconds on my own that made me push harder the next day," he explained.
A huge milestone that TJ
remembers about Beyond Therapy is the day he was able to crawl on the floor - with quite a bit of assistance, true, but he was moving forward. "It sounds funny to say it, but it was so exciting to move forward without the use of my wheelchair.
Sunday after settling the kids in from church, I made a flying trip to Atlanta in order to meet with TJ's doctors and to obtain necessary paperwork for my research in his story The Human Candidate.
It wasn't long after arriving at the Center that I realized how busy a Monday morning was for everyone - patients filled the waiting areas and staff members rushed about their day as if seconds remained for a game-winning touchdown.
With very few vacant chairs in the lobby area and an hour to spare before my first appointment, I began wandering up and down the hallways of the Shepherd Building. It amazed me that going into my sixth visit at the rehabilitation center, I had somehow overlooked a wall filled with beautiful artwork - most were pieces painted by former patients, awards recognizing staff and administrators for different achievements, and photographs of events held throughout the Center's thirty-five year history.
A few minutes later, a security officer passed and asked if I needed help finding my way. I suppose my large duffel bag filled with notebooks and reference books was a dead ringer for not being there for medical reasons. I explained that I was waiting to interview a staff member, and mentioned that I would love to find a quite place to write. She smiled and pointed me in the direction of the Noble Learning Resource Center which was just down the hallway and to the left.
In the few steps it took to reach the library, I passed a couple standing near their son in a wheelchair and inadvertently overheard their conversation. Suddenly the memories of TJ being a patient at the facility quickly came back to me. The same determination and strength heard in this family's conversation was like rewinding six months to the time when TJ was dealing with the same uncertainty and reality of being young and disabled. With motivation like no other, and a rush of ideas stirring inside my head, I wasted no time in finding the perfect chair inside the library. I must admit, this is the most intense writing I have ever experienced, as I felt that I was no longer writing for TJ alone, but for millions of other spinal cord injury patients out there who pray each day for a cure for paralysis.
Not even a page into my writing, a volunteer at the library - Tony Boatright who is also a spinal cord injury patient, pushed his chair next to me and asked if I needed anything before he left for lunch. I smiled and shook my head no. He paused and looked at me curiously - again, the bag full of books and me intensely writing is apparently enough to raise an eyebrow - and asked what I was working on. I explained that I was writing a book about spinal cord injury patients, and immediately conversation took off. For five minutes, Tony and I chatted about the Center and the resources available there for spinal cord injury patients. He was also interested in my writing, but never once asked the topic of the book. It wasn't until a phone call early this morning that I revealed to Tony the concept behind TJ's book. Tony was very happy to hear of TJ's progress, and like many others, he was enthusiastic to learn that TJ's story is well on its way to being published.
This Dear Friends, is why I am passionate about bringing The Human Candidate to life, because I have witnessed how life-changing TJ's story is to those who hear it. Many disabled people anticipate the results of this clinical trial. They are hopeful that a cure for spinal cord injury and chronic illness will be in their lifetime. Indeed, TJ's optimism and strength has given them a
Just when I was getting my writing groove on and making significant progress in book #2, WHAM! Something new and beautiful, an epiphany perhaps, took precedence over my WIP and shifted me in a direction like never before. I assure you, this unique and poignant project will consume most of my spare time in order to make it a success for everyone involved. So as my blogging days become sparse, if not absent in the coming weeks, please understand that something amazing is in the works.
Until next time, goodnight everyone! Love, Tory
As I've mentioned several times on my blog that I love to visit the Millry State Lake for peaceful writing time, yesterday was no exception and exactly what I needed to wind down from a busy, yet fun and eventful week. With just a few fishermen casting their lines from the shoreline, I sat at my favorite table beneath the pavilion and tossed around ideas for this Mother's Day post. After a flip through the pages of my proposal for T.J.'s story, The Human Candidate, a portion from the middle section jumped out at me and ultimately became the focus for this special post.
The photo below is a snapshot of one of my dearest friends, Anita McDonald and her family on summer vacation last year. Anita is the mother to Alyssa, age 5; Tucker age 16; and T.J. age 21. She is the wife to Carey McDonald and is the most selfless person I have ever met.
Before I share Anita's experience, I would like to say this post is dedicated to all of you mothers out there who have stood by and watched as your children have suffered from a disease or an injury. You, too, are my hero, and I admire your strength and determination to make life easier for these special children.
An account from the day that changed Anita's life forever: September 25, 2010:
After meeting with doctors from the University of South Alabama Medical Center and learning her oldest child was completely paralyzed from the chest down, Anita took the elevator down three levels to the waiting area of the hospital in order to mentally process the upsetting news. With tears streaking down her cheeks, memories of the twenty-one years spent raising her son drifted in and out of her mind.
She was angry at first but eventually realized life would go on regardless if her son could walk or not. T.J. was the same person on the inside, and that was all that mattered to her.
A few minutes later, she returned to the elevator to break the devastating news to her father. Indeed, this was an announcement she did not want to make, but with all the other family members falling apart at the seams, this was something she had to do.
Just as the elevator doors were about to close, a young man in a wheelchair stuck his hand inside. Anita took a deep breath and watched him push himself inside the elevator. Trying her best to contain her emotions, she was unable to hold back the warm tears that filled her eyes. As if time stood still, she envisioned her son trying to go about his daily life in a wheelchair. It was a thought she could not imagine.
Anita swallowed hard once again and was able to regain her thoughts. Somehow the tears went away. Realizing this moment was no coincidence at all, she took advantage of being alone with the young man in the elevator. In almost a soft whisper, she tapped him on the shoulder and asked what led to his paralysis. He turned his head with a warm smile across his face and replied that he, too, was involved in a car accident, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down.
Anita explained T.J.’s situation and revealed the diagnosis her son had received. The young man detected the concern in her eyes, so he did his best to ca