Atlanta, GA,
15:21 PM

Custom-Made Care: Carson West Reaches New Heights through the HiTe Program

Shepherd Center offers programs that build upon the solid foundation of traditional therapy to support patients’ overall wellness and prepare them and their families for vibrant lives back home.

“Want to go get some burgers?”

Carson West and his mother couldn’t quite believe the question. At the time, Carson was a week into his stay at Shepherd Center — and just four months removed from surviving an accidental shooting and sustaining a C-4 level spinal cord injury.

But, yes, Carson was indeed receiving an invitation from Shepherd Center’s physical therapy staff to join fellow patients on an outing to a local Steak ‘n Shake.

“It felt nerve-wracking even to consider,” says Carson’s mom, Alexis Schulze. “It was only a few months since we’d been facing emergency surgeries, collapsed lungs, so much. He had just gotten off a ventilator and still had his trach in.

“But the staff had it handled. They took all the supplies he needed and prepped us for everything. I think they knew it was something he needed. We’d seen nothing but hospital walls, and he needed to get out. To see that he could do something like that.”

Other outings would follow — to a shopping center, the Atlanta Botanical Garden,  and more. It was all part of the plan, thanks to the experts in Shepherd Center’s High-Tetraplegia Program (HiTe), which is designed specifically for patients like Carson who have high-level (C-1 to C-4) spinal cord injuries. The program includes community outings, specialized support groups, and education to help family members become confident caregivers.

“The needs of patients with high tetraplegia require an extra level of care and education,” says Polly Hopkins, MS, OTR/L, CLT, therapy manager in the Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program. “HiTe continually evolves to best meet the needs of patients living with high-level injuries and for those who are caring for them.”

These specialized services were seamlessly integrated with the Adolescent Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program for Carson, a 14-year-old from Cincinnati, Ohio. In assistive technology sessions, Carson quickly learned how adaptive equipment could help him play his favorite video games. He learned to use an Alexa voice assistant to turn on lights and appliances, make phone calls, unlock doors, and more.

Carson also remembers Shepherd’s facility dogs, who gave him a lift during grueling rehab workouts in the gym. And he loved hanging out with new friends during Fun Fridays — an Adolescent SCI Rehab favorite — playing music in the gym, painting on massive canvases, and doing movie-and-dinner nights.

The HiTe program offered plenty for Alexis, too, preparing her to become Carson’s primary caregiver back home.

“They basically taught her everything they taught me,” Carson says of his mom’s involvement. “She had to get checked off on everything — suctioning my airways, helping me with showers, the bladder and bowel programs, everything. I’m thankful she did all that.”

“I wanted to be confident by the time we left,” Alexis says. “We were well prepared, and the transition home went so much smoother than I expected. It’s because I was part of everything directly alongside Carson.”

It’s a good thing Alexis felt ready because Carson’s progress enabled him to get discharged a week earlier than expected.

“We were home six days early, so I thought I’d surprise people,” Carson says, then laughs. “I didn’t surprise anybody.”

His first clue was the police escort that guided him and his mom into Cincinnati’s Colerain Township.

“I didn’t realize it was for me at first,” Carson laughs. “Then I started seeing signs.”

Signs, banners, balloons. Hundreds of friends and neighbors lining the streets. His high school’s marching band and cheerleading squad performing in his front yard. Even a former Cincinnati Bengals football player was there to welcome him.

Carson appreciated it all. But he also appreciated getting inside his house and closing the door.

“That felt so good,” he says. “My dogs came running up. My sisters were there, my grandparents, and other family. I was just happy to be in my own home again.”

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.