I was distinctly changed by the experience of visiting Shepherd Center. Here are some of the things I learned:
- After my visit, the thing that left the most powerful impression on me is the incredible resilience of human beings. A spinal cord injury changes life significantly, but both the patients and the staff work toward making the most of it. The general attitude is that a person who becomes paralyzed can still return to work, school or volunteer opportunities and live their lives as members of the community.
- We see wheelchair-accessible features around us all the time, but after visiting Shepherd Center I understand how important they are to people who need them. Simple things like parking spaces, cuts in a curb so that a wheelchair can roll up easily, wider doors and accessible restrooms don't add much to the cost of a building as it is being constructed, but they make a huge difference to a person who uses a wheelchair.
- The insurance industry needs to be modified to reimburse services like those offered by Shepherd Center. In the grand scheme of things, a very small number of people need the care that Shepherd Center provides, but if they need it, they need it. A place like Shepherd Center makes a huge difference in the rate of recovery, as well as the overall outcome of spinal cord injuries. Unfortunately, many insurance programs do not provide full coverage for this kind of care. As a result, Shepherd Center relies on donations and government grants to make up the difference.
- There is a lot of value in a specialized facility like this. The doctors, nurses and staff deal with hundreds of catastrophically injured patients every year and have intensive, daily experience with them. This makes the staff better prepared and more flexible. It also benefits the patients, because everyone in the hospital is on a similar track and so can offer each other support.
A specialized medical facility like Shepherd Center is certainly one of the pinnacles of modern society. It takes a bad situation -- what could be a life-ending spinal cord injury -- and applies the highest levels of care, experience and technology to turn the situation around. For the individual patients who experience the process, the benefits are immeasurable.