Atlanta, GA,
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A Positive Approach to Regaining Independence

Devin Bateman approaches rehabilitation with a smile after sustaining a spinal cord injury in a diving accident during spring break.

Like many college students, Devin Bateman and his friends – all Washington and Lee University students – headed to the beach for spring break. It was Easter Sunday, their first day in Gulf Shores, Alabama, when Devin dove headfirst into the ocean. Misjudging how far the bottom was, Devin hit his head. He immediately lost all feeling in his body and was floating face down in the water. He tried flipping over, but couldn’t.

“In my mind, I was panicking, but there was no time to freak out,” he remembers. He held his breath until friends turned him over and pulled him out.

But even then, he tried to downplay what was happening. 

“I didn’t want to ruin spring break for my friends,” he says. So, while they waited for the EMTs, Devin cracked jokes and made light of the situation, even though he feared he was seriously injured.

This compassion for others and a determination to see the positive side of everything is a hallmark of Devin’s personality. It has also led the way for Devin to achieve milestones both big and small during rehabilitation.

Devin was airlifted to Ascension Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola, Florida, where he underwent surgery and was placed on a ventilator. Doctors confirmed he sustained a C-5/C-6 spinal cord injury (SCI) and was paralyzed from the neck down.

After nearly two weeks in the hospital, Devin transferred to Shepherd Center’s inpatient Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program on April 27, still on a ventilator and with limited movement.

Still, his positive attitude prevailed. “I had heard such good things about Shepherd Center,” he says. “It gave me a lot of hope.”

Devin, who is a member of the Washington and Lee swim team and was just finishing his freshman year, is accustomed to discipline and hard work, and he is using that same motivation in his rehabilitation.

“If you work hard at practice, you’ll do well in the meet,” he says. “Though it’s not the same as a race, here I’m working hard to be more independent.”

That discipline has paid off. Since arriving at Shepherd Center, Devin has weaned off the ventilator and has regained movement and strength in his upper body, which has allowed him to use a manual wheelchair, lower and raise himself into the wheelchair and conduct weight shifts without assistance.

He has also made the most of his time at Shepherd in other ways. Devin was chosen as the “mayor” of the Adolescent Rehabilitation Program, which involves greeting new patients and welcoming them to the floor. The previous mayor had served as a role model.

“He had a similar injury to mine, and I saw him making progress, which lifted my spirits,” Devin says. “Now, I can do the same for other people.”

He also participated in Project Rollway, an annual fashion show at Shepherd Center featuring current and former adolescent patients. And in a recent outing to the Georgia Aquarium, he swam with the whale sharks and relished being back in the water.

“These kinds of activities show me that I can’t let this injury stop me,” Devin says.

He’ll leave the inpatient program at the end of July and continue his rehabilitation in Shepherd Center’s SCI Day Program, before returning home to Fredericksburg, Virginia. He’ll resume his studies at Washington and Lee in January 2023 and plans to pass on this advice to his classmates: “It’s really important to enter the water feet first, especially if you are unfamiliar with how deep it is.”

Devin believes staying positive has contributed to his improvement, but on those off days, he relies on others for support.

“Knowing people are rooting for me really helps keep my spirits up,” he says. “It’s a rough process for everyone, but if you see others working hard and improving, it gives you a good outlook. Shepherd Center is a community where people really care about each other, and you see you are not alone here.”

Written by Sara Baxter

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.