Atlanta, GA,
12:15 PM

Day by Day — Eli Hiskey's Story

Eli Hiskey approaches rehabilitation for a spinal cord injury with determination, positivity, and grace.

“It was just fate that I was at the right place at the right time,” he says. “I drove past this place all the time and didn’t even know it existed. It’s truly the best place I could have gone, and I can’t imagine what recovery would have looked like if I had not come here.”

Eli Hiskey

In 2020, Nashville native Eli Hiskey found a home away from home when he moved to Atlanta to work as a market specialist for a freight management company. Two years later, Eli’s life changed forever when he sustained a high-level spinal cord injury.

In the spring of 2022, Eli and his friends attended Porchfest, a grassroots music festival in Atlanta’s Virginia-Highland neighborhood where musicians perform on the front porches of homes. The group found a trampoline in a backyard and started to jump. Eli attempted a front flip, landing on his head and right shoulder. He immediately knew something was wrong when he could not move his legs. Eli had dislocated his shoulder and sustained a C-5 incomplete spinal cord injury. Eli’s friends called for help, but the crowds and roadblocks caused the ambulance to take nearly two hours to reach the 25-year-old. Once the ambulance arrived, he was rushed to Grady Memorial Hospital, where he underwent surgery and was placed on a ventilator.

“I was out of it at Grady,” Eli explains. “But my mom’s friend is a physical therapist in Florida, and they recommended Shepherd Center. After that, connections started popping up left and right.”

On Memorial Day weekend, Eli transferred to Shepherd Center’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU), where he remained on a ventilator.

“I remember being able to communicate with my family through an alphabet board,” Eli explains. “I would blink or nod to communicate whatever it was. I also remember being on a feeding tube and having this weird craving for blue Gatorade. So, that was the first thing I had when I got the tube out, followed by a Chick-Fil-A cookies and cream milkshake.”

From the ICU, Eli transferred to Shepherd Center’s Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program, where he met the therapists who would soon become like family.  

“I got really close with my physical and occupational therapists,” he says. “Rehab is obviously hard work, but they made it easy to show up every day and made the environment hospitable to be in day in and day out.”

In July, Eli started to see a bit of improvement when he was able to wiggle his left big toe. From there, he says, the floodgates opened, and his progress increased slowly but surely. While he was encouraged by the changes he saw, he stayed focused, taking it one day at a time.

“I had no idea what to expect coming in,” explains Eli. “I turned off any thoughts of expectations and focused on what I could work on in therapy that day. I think that really helped me. Worrying about what will or won’t happen won’t get you anywhere.”

While Eli worked hard in therapy, his family helped him progress outside Shepherd Center – particularly two furry family members.

 “That was the highlight of my days when they could bring the dogs over to hang out,” Eli laughs.

After four months in the inpatient program, Eli graduated and began Shepherd Center’s Spinal Cord Injury Day Program, where he spent the next 12 weeks progressing and moving forward.

“My goal was to leave in a manual wheelchair,” he says. “But my right shoulder just wouldn’t come back. I couldn’t lift a one-pound dumbbell with it, so I left in a powerchair. But, as soon as I left, somehow my shoulder just started kicking in, and I was able to use a manual chair.”

Recently, Eli returned to Shepherd Center for another round of therapy in the Day Program, working on improving his strength and continuing to progress.

“It was just fate that I was at the right place at the right time,” he says. “I drove past this place all the time and didn’t even know it existed. It’s truly the best place I could have gone, and I can’t imagine what recovery would have looked like if I had not come here.”

Today, Eli lives in Tennessee with his family. When he’s not focusing on rehabilitation, he loves spending time with his family, friends, and dogs and attending as many soccer games as possible. He is looking forward to returning to the workforce at the end of the year.

When asked if he has any advice for people living with a disability, he had this to say:

“Everyone is going through something; ours is just a bit more visible,” he says. “You do have to get more comfortable with having your struggles more out in the open, but once you do that, it’s liberating. Once you get that mindset, you don’t care about what anyone else thinks, and you can go live your life.”

Written by Lindsey Rieben

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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.