Atlanta, GA,
13:15 PM

A Letter to Shepherd Center

Codi Southerland reflects on the many milestones her dad reached and the relationships they built during his rehabilitation at Shepherd Center.

“We got to know staff from housekeeping to the coffee kiosk and patients from all over. When you're there as long as we were and surrounded by people whose lives are also getting flipped upside down, everyone quickly becomes an extension of your family. We've created a lifelong family at Shepherd.”

Codi Southerland

On St. Patrick’s Day 2023, Les Brindle was driving home to North Carolina from Washington D.C. when a car crash altered the course of his life. Les sustained a T-12 spinal cord injury (SCI). Upon arrival at the VCU Health Level 1 Trauma Center in Richmond, Virginia, he experienced respiratory failure. Next, his team placed him on a ventilator and put him in a medically induced coma.  

After Les made it through a high-risk surgery, his doctors said he should transfer to a spinal cord injury rehabilitation hospital. So, his daughter, Codi, began researching and asking professionals what their next move should be.

“I began asking every case worker, surgeon, nurse, and each person with the slightest bit of medical background I came across — if they were in this situation, where would they want to be taken?” Codi explains. “The answer was nearly unanimous. ‘Take him to Shepherd Center in Georgia.’”

That’s exactly what they did. At Shepherd, medical professionals determined that Les’ spinal cord injury was incomplete and that he had also sustained a traumatic brain injury. Les and his medical team got to work, and he began progressing in his rehabilitation. As the months passed, and Les graduated from the inpatient program to the Spinal Cord Injury Day Program, his sense of humor never faltered, and he and Codi relied on their knack for connecting with others to create meaningful relationships with staff and patients.

“We spent every Tuesday evening sitting and having family dinners with everyone, including [Shepherd Center co-founder] Mrs. Alana Shepherd, who always came with a fun conversation, but our closest bond was with her granddaughter, Julie,” Codi says. “My dad is a serious animal lover. So, when he needed cheering up, Julie would come by with Lanza [one of Shepherd’s facility dogs]. Of course, Dad and Lanza became best buddies, and in the process, Julie did too.”

For Les’ family, those who had been strangers mere months ago were now even closer than friends. They became family.

“We got to know staff from housekeeping to the coffee kiosk and patients from all over,” Codi says. “When you're there as long as we were and surrounded by people whose lives are also getting flipped upside down, everyone quickly becomes an extension of your family. We've created a lifelong family at Shepherd.”

Today, Les has made spectacular progress and has returned home to his farm with his wife and daughter. But Codi felt she could not leave without a formal goodbye. She wrote a letter recapping some of the firsts she shared with her dad during his recovery at Shepherd Center.

 Excerpts from her letter to Shepherd are below:

Though Dad won't say goodbye until the end of the week, today, I say goodbye (for now) to Atlanta.

I wasn't expecting to be as emotional about this as I am. I wasn't expecting to leave without an hour-long thank-you, hug, and tears galore for each and every person who's touched our lives. But alas, here we are, so that must mean this isn't "goodbye" forever.

A third of my year has been spent here, and though sometimes it feels like only a blip, most of the time, it feels like years. I'll miss these people.

The people who have taught me more about myself than I could ever imagine, who have guided this journey, who have held my hand. 

The people who selflessly devote their lives to the families inside these walls.

I've laughed, cried, and shared so much "life" with this new family we've acquired.

I've learned about their children, met their families, hung out with them, and had countless talks over coffee.

They've even learned how Grammy is DEFINITELY making a scrapbook of her visits, gotten to know about her "silver sneakers" group, and seen firsthand where Dad's personality comes from. We've shared meals, swapped stories, cried together, and made each other laugh like crazy.

These are the people that saved my dad.

VCU did the footwork in the beginning and kept him with us, but Shepherd has given him life.

Dignity. Love. Independence (and even a doctorate degree, if you ask him 😜).

You know how parents track babies with milestones?

Caretakers do, too... DAUGHTERS do, too.

-First time in a wheelchair

-First lunch at a table in the cafeteria

-First Easter 

-First time moving legs again with the NuStep

-First time playing cards to gain back some memory

-First time sitting up by himself

-First time learning to balance on the edge of a surface

-First time navigating life outside of a hospital

-First day transferring without a Hoyer

-First day playing games outside again

-First Memorial Day 

-First day navigating society via a farmer's market outing

-First time walking Annie

-First time doing yoga

-First time driving a track chair

-First time out to dinner as a family

-First time putting on pants without help

-First Project Rollway

-First time driving a manual chair

-First time picking up his own legs

-First time laying on his stomach

-First time on the tilt table

-First time cooking

-First Father's Day

-First custom wheelchair (x2)

-First standing frame 

-First Peachtree Road Race

-First July 4th

-First time on the news

-First time being appointed Mayor

-First time getting in and out of a car

-First (and soon second) Graduation

-First time navigating an apartment

-First time getting in and out of bed

-First time "scooting" around at the zoo

-First time in the pool

-First time walking in the pool

-First time walking on the Lokomat

...the list goes on and on! 

When we got here, our lives looked a lot different. They still do, but my, how he's grown! I'm so proud of how far my dad's come since March, and I'm eager to see how far he'll go as he continues his recovery and rehabilitation in North Carolina. I'm grateful for our time at Shepherd, all the connections we've made, and the family we've gained, but I'm more excited to see how much progress we can make before we come back for a visit.

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart to each and every one of you who have supported us near and far. Especially our friends and family at Shepherd Center. Don't think I'm letting you go without your own personal sappy letter - I'm just a bit behind.

On to our next adventure!

See you soon, Carolina ✨

- Codi Southerland


Written by Lindsey Rieben

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.