By Kelly Sydnor
Mother of Former Shepherd Center Patient Cole Sydnor
Recently, my husband and I shamelessly clicked pictures and took videos of our 21-year-old son, Cole, as he drove his truck down our driveway and headed out to his first day as Sheltering Arms Foundation’s new intern. To most folks, this scene would seem routine -- sans the goofy parents documenting the event -- yet, for us, it felt miraculous!
You see, back during what I describe as our dark days, we never imagined a day like this would materialize. When Cole dove headfirst into the James River in Richmond, Va., in the summer of 2011 and struck his head on a submerged boulder, he was immediately paralyzed. All our lives were forever altered. Unable to move or breathe on his own, Cole’s life literally hung in the balance. Our hopes for a meaningful future seemed bleak. Cole initially desired to end it all – a very dark day, indeed. As parents, our job is to provide strong foundations and pathways to a bright future but, in my weakest moments, I allowed my hopes and dreams for Cole to remain dashed upon that damn rock. I was wounded, too.
Looking for an efficient way to disseminate up-to-date information on Cole’s condition, I began to write. I found it to be therapeutic and, as a bonus, a terrific method for documenting events, procedure dates and charting progress. As Cole’s full-time advocate and caregiver, I had no time to be a disorganized mess in addition to being an overwhelmed, emotional wreck. The journal entries were my safety net – my memory. Thus, I also began to take pictures and videos, and I began to share them. I documented every tiny sliver of progress. And, I began to heal.
Today, we take joy in celebrating all milestones, as part of our ongoing healing process. Fortunately, Cole is amenable to my constant picture taking. Even now, when he tires of the lens, he understands the value pictures add, the comfort they afford me and the discernible information they provide. Each baby step, especially in the beginning, was a gigantic leap of hope for us. Each tube removal another symbolic step toward additional independence. We were energized by each new gain, however slight, and bragged about them with our loving community like prized trophies. We ALL began to heal.
After nearly two years of updates, I cut back on the number of entries I published. I began to wonder if folks were tiring of hearing our story. Had Cole achieved any newsworthy milestones? Everything just felt kind of normal, even though it was still our new normal. Certainly nothing earth shattering was happening. Still, I continued to take pictures and videos and sprinkled in some Facebook posts. Well, looking back over the past several years, guess what?
My mind was blown! What seemed normal to us at the time was actually quite extraordinary.
Here is a comparison to what were huge milestones in the infancy of his injury to what he has been up to since:
Clearly, Cole has achieved an impressive list of milestones for which we are grateful. We appreciate everyone who acknowledges and cheers his progression. I believe it fuels Cole’s desire to succeed and encourages those who care for him daily. For those who care for others where recovery seems minimal or unchanged, keep in mind that growth, when viewed up close every day, can often go unnoticed and, worse, unrewarded.
Documentation helps progress speak for itself. When it comes to catastrophic injuries like spinal cord injury or traumatic brain injury, not every positive change is measured in physical terms. It could be a slight deviation in attitude – a choice to be happy, to be loving, to seek ways to give back – no matter your limitations. In all ways, give your best, all the time. A list is really not necessary – just living a full life and recognizing, remembering, relishing and celebrating milestones, no matter how seemingly insignificant, is enough. I promise, you will begin to heal, too.
KELLY SYDNOR of Mechanicsville, Va.,is the mother of former Shepherd Center patient Cole Sydnor, who sustained a spinal cord injury when he was 16. Kelly and her husband Clement have two children, Cole and Quint. Prior to Cole’s injury, Kelly spent her career as an account executive with Clinique, Sanofi Beaute, and Brighton. She also volunteered in her community through church and her boys’ youth sports programs. Today, in addition to caring for Cole full-time, Kelly volunteers for the Trauma Survivors Network at VCU and supports organizations that provide opportunities for wheelchair athletes.
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