By Scott Haller
Father to former Shepherd Center patient, Parker Haller
Next month will be four years since my oldest son Parker had a diving accident and sustained a C4-C5 spinal cord injury. Things have understandably changed regarding his physical abilities, but in reality, if the focus is on effort, things are still the same.
Parker and his three siblings have always had the normal teenage responsibilities – school, sports, home, social, family, etc. Parker has never had to be the smartest student in his class, the fastest or strongest athlete, or most creative. His measurement has always been to give 100 percent effort and to try his best. We knew the rest would fall out after that. When it was evident he could be giving more, I was there to encourage him to work harder. He’s become very good at motivating himself to push, push, push, and I’m still there for support. Things are different, but still very much the same.
We don’t dwell too much on his injury. We don’t have long talks about how things used to be. His accident is simply an event that occurred in his life – just like any other event. We try very hard not to have his injury define him. He understands there’s nothing he can do to reverse the injury or its results, but I’ve reinforced the injury hasn’t ended hopes and dreams. He’ll move out soon, get his husky and be on his own.
I’ve tried to express to him the importance of keeping things in perspective. The results of his injury could certainly be overwhelming – if he let them overwhelm him. I continue to look for new opportunities that may interest him, and I support anything he may wants to do. We live and thrive on the success of each day. He and I make a big deal about college grades, muscle growth, new levels of flexibility and stamina, more repetitions of exercises and faster times on his hand cycle training rides. I’m there to encourage him and applaud his achievements, just like I did before his injury. Things haven’t changed.
Before he was injured, Parker was an advanced martial artist. He had gotten bigger and stronger to where we could train together and go at it pretty hard. Since Parker’s injury, we still go to the gym together. I also work him out at home and train him on his handcycle. He understands the importance of staying fit with a spinal cord injury, but he understood the benefits of physical fitness before his accident. Things are different, but then again, they’re not.
Parker has always been an above average student. Although he missed an entire semester of his junior year of high school, he was able to catch up with the work he missed and completed the year on time with his classmates. He graduated from high school on time, cum laude and was inducted into the National Honor Society. I’ve always been there to help with his schoolwork and continue to support him when needed in his college courses. Nothing’s changed.
Parker continues to have responsibilities around the house, in college and keeping himself healthy. There have never been any free rides in our house, and there still aren’t even with a spinal cord injury. He’s expected to participate and contribute within his abilities. I always challenge him to take on more responsibility towards the goal of being independent and self-sufficient just as I would if he hadn’t been injured. There are no timelines, but there is the expectation to work hard. Things are different, but they’re still the same. That’s our focus.
SCOTT HALLER of Woodbridge VA, is the father of former Shepherd Center patient Parker Haller who sustained a spinal cord injury in 2012 when he was 15. Scott and his wife Miriam have four children: Jessica, Paige, Parker, and Noah. Scott is retired from the Air Force after 22 years of service as an air traffic controller. He and his family moved to Northern Virginia in 2011 after he was selected for a fellowship in the United States Senate. Prior to Parker's injury, he taught taekwondo to both children and adults and volunteered in his community through his children's youth sports programs. Today, his family supports a variety of sports, rehabilitation and peer support activities geared towards youth with spinal cord injuries.
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