Elizabeth Alley, 35, is a “fixer” – one who’s particularly adept at helping fix other people’s problems. She discovered this about herself in the years after sustaining a C-4 to -5 spinal cord injury in a car crash when she was 20.
Five years after her injury, she started volunteering as a peer supporter through the Trauma Survivors Network at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee. Elizabeth visited with patients in the trauma unit, but she also made a point to talk with the patients’ families – knowing that life-altering injuries are also traumatic for parents and relatives.
“When I’d first meet these families, you could feel this dark cloud hanging over them,” she says. “They’re scared and they don’t know what to expect moving forward. So, I’d talk with them, share my journey and tell them about the network resources that helped me. By the end of the conversation, the room felt brighter, and their shoulders weren’t slumped. These families realized there could be light in the distance. I absolutely love helping make that happen.”
Elizabeth sharpened her people-helping perspective during her time at Shepherd Center in the Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program, which included an inpatient stay and then multiple visits in the Spinal Cord Injury Day Program.
“They were so good about making you realize this is not the end,” Elizabeth says. “So I told myself, ‘I’m 20 years old. I could be in this body another 60 years. I better start learning how to use it again!’ I went all-in.”
Back home, she reconnected with friends and allowed her outgoing, social personality to re-emerge. In 2004, she was named Ms. Wheelchair Tennessee, and in 2006, she regained some freedom by learning to drive on her own, thanks to Shepherd Center’s adaptive driving program.
Today, Elizabeth is helping a new generation meet their challenges. Her boyfriend has two sons, 13 and 11, who keep her busy during the summers and holidays. And with weekly family dinners among Elizabeth’s own family in middle Tennessee, she gets plenty of time with her nieces and nephews.
“I love playing with kids,” she says. “That’s a big boost for me. It’s fun, and there are always things to fix!”
By Phillip Jordan
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