Atlanta, GA,
08:46 AM

A Home Away from Home

Family housing and a committed care team enabled Maine native Chelsea Vietti to focus on life still to come.

In 2010, Chelsea Vietti sustained a C-4 to C-5 spinal cord injury (SCI) in a car crash. Once her family knew the extent of her injury, Chelsea’s father began researching hospitals specializing in SCI rehabilitation. He quickly decided Shepherd Center was where his daughter needed to go.

The only problem? The family lived in Maine.

“He had to fight pretty hard to get me in there,” Chelsea says. “We live closer to other facilities, obviously. But once he heard Shepherd Center was the best, he was determined I would get there.

“I’m so glad he did because I can’t imagine not having gone there now. I went to the right place. We had the best team of doctors and therapists. They really wanted me to thrive. They were the first people who made me believe that, yes, it might be more challenging to pursue my dreams, but I could absolutely figure out new ways to achieve them.”

Shepherd Center also provided a solution for the family’s long-distance challenge, with Chelsea’s parents staying in donor-funded family housing on Shepherd Center’s campus.

“It meant the world to me and my family to be together during my three and a half months there,” Chelsea says. “Hands-down, I would not be where I am now without my parents.”

Today, Chelsea has a growing family of her own. Last summer, she and her husband Justin welcomed their daughter Dorothy to the world. It was a perilous journey and a complicated birth, as “Dottie” arrived 10 weeks early, weighing just two pounds, nine ounces. Mother and daughter each remained in the hospital for nearly six weeks.

Through it all, Chelsea relied on advice she absorbed at Shepherd Center.

“They do such an excellent job teaching you to be your own best advocate,” she says. “They pushed me out of my comfort zone to speak up. It’s your body, you know it best, and you have to say what you need. I carried that with me all through my pregnancy.” 

Today, mother and daughter are healthy, happy, and ‘completely smitten,’” Chelsea says with a laugh. “She lights up the whole world when she smiles. She is beautiful and funny and feisty.”

The odds are good that Dottie will translate some of that feistiness into a dance move or two. Together, Chelsea and Justin run the Libitzki School of Dance in Ellsworth, Maine. This year, the ballet, tap, and jazz studio — founded by Chelsea’s mom Cheryl — will celebrate its 50th anniversary. Dancing is Chelsea’s passion; she started when she was five. And returning to the studio as a teacher, post-injury, proved to Chelsea that her Shepherd Center care team had been right. She could, in fact, keep pursuing the things she loves most.

“It’s true,” Chelsea says. “I am very much living my life and doing what I’ve always wanted to do. I’m excited to see what’s still to come.”

Written by Phillip Jordan

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About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.