Former Patient with High-Level Spinal Cord Injury Eagerly Returns to Work
Shepherd Center rehabilitation program and a supportive employer help make it possible.
After he sustained a C-5 complete spinal cord injury in a 2009 diving accident, Jason DiSanto, 40, of Atlanta, felt that no challenge loomed larger than the stigma of being in a wheelchair.
“I was worried about how I would be treated,” recalls the electrical engineer for GE Power & Water. “Sometimes people don’t know how to approach you, and you feel conspicuous.”
Fortunately for Jason, acceptance was not a problem when he returned to work at GE Power & Water. “They were excited to have me back and treated me like I had never left.”
After two months of rehabilitation at Shepherd Center, Jason spent six months acclimating to his new life and learning how to use adaptive equipment. He navigates a power wheelchair with a sip-and-puff interface and relies on an aide to take care of daily needs.
His progress was remarkable: A year after his injury, Jason returned to his same job at GE Power & Water, where he’s worked in various capacities for more than 17 years. Today, he provides technical expertise to customers who have power generation equipment.
“They really wanted me back, so it wasn’t an issue to return to work,” he says, adding that the company purchased necessary equipment, adjusted his desk to accommodate his wheelchair and cleared the way for his aide to come to work with him. “They were very receptive to all the changes and adaptations that needed to be made and did a lot to get me back to work.”
With the help of Dragon Naturally Speaking, voice recognition software that translates words into text, and an adaptive mouse he controls by moving his head, Jason is able to use a computer. Bluetooth technology makes it possible to operate a cell phone.
Despite the challenges he has confronted since the accident, Jason has tried to maintain a positive attitude. “It’s really the way I was raised,” Jason says. “My mother and grandmother taught me to always be positive, despite whatever was happening. Even now, I have more good days than bad.”
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 900 inpatients, 575 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year.