Atlanta, GA,
13:49 PM

Adapting in Style

Maggie McClellan, a Shepherd Center Stroke Rehabilitation Program alumna, finds new ways to shine.

When Maggie McClellan returned home to Bristol, Tennessee, in 2015 following rehabilitation at Shepherd Center for a brainstem stroke, she expected the calls from her neighbors, friends and loved ones. She did not, however, expect to hear from Tommy Hilfiger.

“But, of course, right?” says Maggie, now 32, with a laugh.

The iconic brand was about to release a new line of adaptive clothing featuring solutions like magnetic buttons and velcro zippers to make dressing simpler for people with mobility challenges. A work colleague of Maggie’s at the time had a connection with the manufacturing giant. So, less than a year after leaving Shepherd Center, Maggie McClellan became one of the faces of a Tommy Hilfiger ad campaign.

“Prior to being injured, fastening a button wasn’t anything that ever crossed my mind,” she says. “But I learned real quickly you have to think twice about what you want to wear, how easy it will be to get dressed, where you’re going, what you’re doing.

“It’s really easy to lose what you consider to be ‘yourself’ after a life-changing injury,” she adds. “For me, how I dress is a big part of that. So, while it’s nothing I ever expected, I was proud to be part of that campaign. It made clothes fun again.”

The photo shoots also helped cement Maggie’s post-injury philosophy of trying new things and always looking forward. It’s a mindset she first started to master during her time in Shepherd Center’s Stroke Rehabilitation Program.

When Maggie had a stroke in 2014, it affected the part of her brain that controls everything from breathing and swallowing to facial movement and balance. While at UVA University Hospital in Charlottesville, Virginia, she had to use both a feeding tube and a ventilator. When she arrived at Shepherd Center, she started relearning how to speak, eat and move.

“The biggest thing I had to learn was patience,” Maggie says. “Everyone told me it would take time, but that’s hard to hear when you’re 26 and used to being on the go. At first, I allowed my inabilities to outshine what I could do. That made it tough mentally. I slowly learned to be kind to myself, to be patient with my body.”

She credits her Shepherd Center care team for planting seeds of self-love, hope and resilience.

“The thing that meant the most to me,” Maggie says, “was just how nice and supportive everyone was. Yes, they are excellent at what they do, but it’s also how they deliver that care.

“Heaven forbid, I know nobody wants to have a brain injury or spinal cord injury. But if you do, I do not believe there is a better place to be than Shepherd Center.”

In addition to her inpatient stay, Maggie also spent time at Shepherd Pathways, a comprehensive outpatient rehabilitation program for people recovering from brain injuries. Maggie recalls pivotal conversations there with Mary Ashlyn Thiede, RYT 200, an exercise physiologist, during an adaptive yoga class.

“She knew I could get frustrated so she would just keep reminding me: ‘There are so many things you’ll still be able to do. You just might have to do them a little differently.’”

Maggie carried that mantra home with her. Five years later, the advice seems as pertinent as ever in the midst of COVID-19.

Like so many of us, Maggie is laying low these days.

“When I catch up with my friends, I think, ‘Hmm, how do I tell them about ordering groceries online again in the most exciting way possible,’” she says jokingly.

In reality, Maggie might be better prepared than most to sustain her mental health during this challenging year.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about my time at Shepherd Center,” she says. “Staying at home more now and having fewer options available, it’s all about learning new things and figuring out new ways to do the activities you love. Keeping a schedule for yourself, even when it feels like there’s not a lot going on, is important. Shepherd Center taught me all that.”

Now, she’s applying those lessons to meet the current moment. For instance, exercise is vital for Maggie’s ongoing physical conditioning. Since she can’t go to her local YMCA to ride the recumbent bike and use their Nautilus weights, she’s revived the adaptive yoga routines she learned at Pathways and has made the most of lightweight resistance bands at home.

Instead of eating out at restaurants, Maggie joined a master gardening class through the University of Tennessee Extension’s online program. This past summer, she grew lettuce, tomatoes and jalapeños. They’ve come in handy when she and her parents — whom she moved back in with once the pandemic hit — have a small, socially distanced cookout once a week with neighbors.

“I’ve been trying out new recipes, but there’s been a lot of macaroni and cheese, too,” she says with a laugh.

Of course, Maggie will be as thrilled as anyone once a return to normalcy is possible. She misses in-person meetings as a board member at the YMCA of Bristol, helping spearhead sustainability efforts. And as a former marketing manager, writer and public relations professional, Maggie wants to find full-time work again, too.

For now, the advice she carries forward from Shepherd Center is also what she prescribes for good mental health amidst a global public health crisis: “Be patient. Try new things as you can. Love yourself,” Maggie says. “We’ll get there."


Written by Phillip Jordan

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.