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Five Questions About Peer Support at Shepherd Center

Meet new peer support liaison Curran Brown.

A head-on car collision resulted in a spinal cord injury that paralyzed Curran Brown from the waist down.

She was six years old.

Now 23, Curran joined the team of the Spinal Cord Injury Peer Support Program at Shepherd Center in November. It’s one way, she says, for her to “give back to the rehabilitation community” that helped her growing up.

Raised in Johns Creek, Georgia, Curran graduated with a degree in kinesiology from the University of Illinois. She attended Illinois on a wheelchair basketball scholarship and continues to play for the Shepherd Stealers, which is one of the 11 sports teams sponsored by the Fred, Shaler and Andrew Alias Sports Teams program at Shepherd Center.

We caught up with Curran to talk about what she jokingly calls her first “big-girl job” and its role in helping patients at Shepherd Center.

What do you remember about those who helped you when you were injured as a kid?

Coming from someone who was six, I really didn’t know what was going on. For the team of nurses and therapists who worked with me (at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta), their goal was for me to get better. I just knew these people didn’t know me but they were helping me anyway. That stuck with me. I was going from a super traumatic accident and having to learn, basically, a whole new life, and there were people there for you like you were special. I want to help people have that same experience, show them that life still goes on, post-injury.

How do you begin talking with a patient?

A typical first session is me letting them hear my story, being vulnerable. We both let our guards down so that anything they want to talk about we can talk about.

How does that fit in with other therapy?

Physical therapists and occupational therapists can show them how to do things, but it’s reassuring for a patient to see someone who can’t move her legs and is in a wheelchair show them, too. A physical therapist can show them how to transfer but the patient might be thinking, “But you can move your legs.” It’s nice to see someone who’s in the same position. They see me and know, “I’m here now but eventually I can get to that point.”

What concerns do patients talk most often with you about?

Bladder and bowel issues are a huge piece of what patients have a hard time with. When they come to peer support, I tell them my experience, we talk about our frustrations, they ask about techniques. I don’t think anyone really understands that whole side of spinal cord injury unless you absolutely experience it.

What’s the best part of your job?

I love when patients notice their own progress. When they first get here they’re really closed, not really knowing what’s going on – that time right after a traumatic accident is definitely hard. Then after just a few weeks, they’ve grown to do so much, they have a more positive attitude. I love seeing the joy in their face after they do something they didn’t think they could do just a week ago.

Fun Facts

Curran’s favorite NBA team is the Los Angeles Lakers – despite the addition of LeBron James. “I don’t like LeBron. I always liked the Lakers because of Kobe (Bryant) and Pau Gasol.”

Her favorite college basketball team: “I’m loyal to my school, Illinois, even though they’re not the best in sports.”

Her role on the Shepherd Stealers wheelchair basketball team: “I don’t like to shoot, I like to get others open to shoot. I pick and seal for the big guys – do the dirty work so they can make the shot.”

Other passions: cooking (“I watch the Cooking Network all the time”) and travelling. Trips so far include 25 states in the U.S., Germany, Paris and the Cayman Islands, where Curran became a certified scuba diver.

What’s next: “Just experiencing the unknown – I want to know what’s out there. And I want to go to graduate school to become an occupational therapist.”

Interview by Drew Jubera

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.