Melanie Lott knew something was terribly wrong when her then-fiancé, Michael Schneider, never came home from work one fateful Monday night in 2013. Panic ensued, and through her quick sleuthing, Melanie finally tracked him down through the Florida Highway Patrol.
Michael was at a local trauma center about an hour south of Jupiter, Florida, with several critical injuries. He had been driving on the Florida Turnpike and reportedly pulled over to rescue a cat. As he was walking along the shoulder, a car swerved and hit him at nearly 60 miles an hour, catapulting his body more than 50 feet into the guardrail.
“We didn’t really know his prognosis, but he was in a coma and had major injuries to his head, right shoulder, pelvis and ankle,” Melanie explains.
Despite Michael’s grim prognosis at the trauma center, Melanie refused to give up. After all, Michael was only 35 years old at the time, and the two were set to marry just six months later. They soon learned about Shepherd Center and, through her research, Melanie decided it was exactly where Michael needed to be.
“Rehabilitation facilities in South Florida cater to a much older patient population, and they didn’t seem equipped to aggressively deal with his injury,” Melanie says. “I just kept thinking he has so much life ahead of him, and I knew that every decision we made in the immediacy of the injury would ultimately determine his quality of life later on.”
They met with Ginger Murphy, MSW, a Shepherd Center access case manager, who evaluated him at North Broward Hospital and handled the logistics of admitting him to Shepherd Center. Once he was stable enough to make the trip, Michael was transferred by air ambulance to Atlanta.
Because of the wealth of expertise at Shepherd Center, many families say they can finally breathe easier once their loved one is here. The staff’s confidence in handling these injuries gives them comfort and eases the stress that’s been wearing them down.
“Our first night at Shepherd was the first time I really slept in the five weeks since his accident,” Melanie explains. “We had been advocating for him around the clock at the local hospital – to make sure he was being turned and cleaned. It was the greatest sense of relief.”
One of the biggest issues many families face when deciding on a rehabilitation program is whether to stay close to home. The thought of picking up and leaving homes, jobs and other demands can be overwhelming on top of the initial shock of the injury. But Shepherd Center helps make this possible by providing 30 days of complimentary housing for family members of newly injured rehabilitation patients if both the family and patient live more than 60 miles from the hospital. (Learn more in Part 4 of our virtual tour video series.)
“At the end of the day, nothing else mattered except getting him the intensive care he needed,” Melanie says.
The couple recently celebrated their third wedding anniversary and moved to St. Augustine, Florida. Their son, Jackson, is 21 months old. Mike has been working for a large supermarket for nearly two years as a cashier and in customer service.
Melanie will forever be grateful for the intense rehabilitation Michael received at Shepherd Center after he was hit along the highway, she says.
"I often stop and watch Mike in the middle of simple, everyday tasks -- cutting the grass, playing with our son, driving to the grocery store -- and I think about how different things could have been, how this story could have ended so tragically," Melanie says. "I think about Shepherd Center and the role it played in changing our outcome. It's in those moments that I think about other families that are dealing with similar situations and I pray that someone shares with them the importance of early, intense, specialized rehabilitation. There's not a day that goes by -- even the hard days -- that we don't realize how lucky we are."
For more information about the inpatient and outpatient programs, visit, shepherd.org/patient-programs.
Written by Amanda Crowe, MA, MPH
Photos by Molly Bartels
Video by Bridges Cinema
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Ga., is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury or brain injury. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation and is a 152-bed facility. Last year Shepherd Center had 965 admissions to its inpatient programs and 571 to its day patient programs. In addition, Shepherd Center sees more than 6,600 people annually on an outpatient basis. For more information, visit Shepherd Center online at www.shepherd.org