Former Shepherd Center Patient Keeps Coming Back in the Name of Research
Though he completed his rehabilitation in Shepherd Center’s Spinal Cord Injury Day Program in May 2014, William “Chip” Hazelrig, 60, of Birmingham, Ala., is still a familiar face at the hospital.
Chip was injured in a motorcycle accident in January 2014 while visiting Palm Springs, Calif., for a golf outing. He and a friend took an early morning motorcycle ride to view the sunrise across the desert. When Chip got distracted by something that caught his eye, the front wheel of the bike caught the curb, sending him flying over the handlebars. Chip fell onto a large boulder and sustained a C-4 incomplete spinal cord injury (SCI) that resulted in quadriplegia.
“Lying there on the ground, I went into prayer mode,” Chip recalls. “Fortunately, I had no head trauma, and I was able to breathe on my own.”
After being stabilized at a local hospital, Chip was airlifted home to the University of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB) Medical Center, where he had surgery. He was in the intensive care unit (ICU) for 10 days before transferring to UAB’s Spain Rehabilitation Center.
While in the hospital, he learned about Shepherd Center and decided to transfer his rehabilitation care to Atlanta. He came to the day program that March, just two months after his accident. While Chip completed his rehabilitation just six weeks later, he continues to travel from his home in Birmingham to Shepherd Center to participate in Beyond Therapy®, the hospital’s rigorous, activity-based therapy program.
“When I started Beyond Therapy, my range of motion was so limited,” Chip says. “But they push you a lot harder there. It was so painful, I thought they were trying to get rid of me!”
But Chip persevered, and though he still uses a power wheelchair some of the time, he is now able to walk aided by a walker.
“I’m definitely making progress,” Chip says. “It hasn’t been as fast I’d like it to be, but I take it one day at a time. Maintaining a positive attitude is key.”
Therapy isn’t the only thing that keeps Chip coming back to Shepherd Center. He also regularly participates in various research studies. Thus far, Chip has participated in a four-month clinical trial on the Lokomat®, a robotics-assisted gait-training treadmill with body-weight support. He has also participated in a whole-body vibration study that is funded by a research grant from the National Institutes of Health. He hopes to participate in another clinical trial soon.
“In research, we are very dependent upon people who are willing to participate in our clinical trials,” says Edelle Field-Fote, PT, Ph.D., director of Shepherd Center’s Spinal Cord Injury Research Program and the Hulse Spinal Cord Injury Laboratory. “We are very appreciative of the time they give us and hope the results of the studies will improve the lives of people who are living with SCI today and those who sustain spinal cord injuries in the future.”
The hope of helping people in the future, in addition to the benefits he receives, keeps Chip motivated on his frequent route from Birmingham to Atlanta. Plus, he views the staff at Shepherd Center like family.
“It’s a wonderful blessing to be able to be treated at Shepherd,” Chip says. “I am impressed by the quality of the employees and the camaraderie they share. Everyone is willing to help each other out and do what is best for the patients. It’s always a pleasure to be there.”
For more information on participating in research at Shepherd Center, visit shepherd.org/research.
Written by Sara Baxter
Photos by Gary Meek
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 935 inpatients, 541 day program patients and more than 7,300 outpatients each year.