One family experiences Shepherd Center – twice.
She first got the call no one wants to get on October 23, 2001.
That’s when Cindy Crosslin, from Fayetteville, Tennessee, was told that her husband, Mike, had been in a motorcycle wreck. An assembler at an auto plant, Mike was in a coma when he arrived at Huntsville Hospital in Alabama. A doctor told Cindy that the father of their 13- and 7-year-old sons likely wouldn’t survive.
Cindy refused to believe it.
“I told him, ‘No!’” she recalls. “You just have to fight!”
Mike was transferred six weeks later to Shepherd Center, where he completed the inpatient Acquired Brain Injury Rehabilitation Program. He then progressed to Shepherd Pathways, the hospital’s comprehensive outpatient program for patients with brain injuries.
During those four months, Mike relearned to dress himself, feed himself, read.
“Shepherd Center started Mike out on the right track,” Cindy says. “He was literally reborn at age 35, and he’s gotten better every day.”
Nine years later, the seemingly impossible happened: Cindy again received the call no one wants to get. Her oldest son, Robby, then a junior at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, was in a car wreck while home from school on a holiday break.
The wreck resulted in a T-4 spinal cord injury (SCI) that paralyzed Robby from the chest down.
Five days later, on December 23, Robby was transferred from Huntsville Hospital to Shepherd Center, and the Crosslins made the familiar trek back to Atlanta.
Cindy, 55, sighs at the memory.
“My heart sunk,” she says. “We got to spend two Christmases at Shepherd.”
For Robby, who as a teenager from Tennessee visited Shepherd Center every weekend while his father participated in rehabilitation, the return was at once familiar and surreal.
“It all hit me,” he says. “My father was at Shepherd Center during the same time of year I was. I had a lot of memories of being there. How Shepherd helped my father is the reason I went there.
“The physical brick and mortar didn’t make it seem like home,” he adds, “but the staff members did. They were loving and caring and understanding.”
Robby spent about two months in the inpatient Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program and another two months in the Spinal Cord Injury Day Program. As part of Shepherd’s extensive, donor-funded recreational therapy program, Robby also went on frequent outings including trap shooting, a hockey game and meals at nearby restaurants.
“It helps you get more acclimated to what life will be like outside of Shepherd,” he says.
During his rehabilitation, Robby also kept up with his full-time college coursework. A professor visited the hospital several times during his stay, as did some of Robby’s fraternity brothers.
“It was hard, but we were a little more prepared the second time,” Cindy says. “You know what to look for, what to accept, what not to accept. It was a journey.”
Applying lessons he learned at Shepherd, along with his own gritty determination, Robby barely slowed down after his injury. A competitive bass fisherman since he was a child, he started a competitive fishing program at UT-Chattanooga and continued in the sport after his injury.
“At the time, I believe I was the only person to fish collegiately out of a wheelchair,” says Robby, now 30. “Fishing was my saving grace. It kept my mind in the right place, kept me motivated.”
Robby graduated with a marketing degree the year after his time at Shepherd and works as a market analyst for a Chattanooga transportation company. Two years ago, he married his wife Jessi.
One of the issues I had [after the injury] was I didn’t think anyone would want to spend their life with someone who had paraplegia,” he adds. “But that wasn’t the case at all. I’ve lived as good a life, if not better, than, as I did prior to being in a wheelchair.”
Cindy, a bank teller in Fayetteville, calls Robby “my hero,” adding that she’s “proud of all my guys.”
Mike, now 53, is a caregiver for his mother-in-law, who has Alzheimer’s disease.
Robby’s wife, Jessi Crosslin, works as a case manager for patients with brain injuries at Siskin Hospital for Physical Rehabilitation, in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She sometimes shares the Crosslins’ story with her own patients’ families, as an example of what’s possible under even the most challenging circumstances.
“I think Miss Cindy is just a saint,” Jessi says. “To have to go through all that, it shows what kind of family they are to keep going, to keep pursuing everything they had before.”
Robby says the lessons of his family’s unlikely journey might sound like clichés, but that doesn’t make them any less true.
“Take nothing for granted,” he says. “Tomorrow’s not promised. You have to live each day to the fullest.”
Written by Drew Jubera
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neuromuscular conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 900 inpatients, 575 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year.