Atlanta, GA,
11:59 AM

From I Can't to I Can: Debbie Riggsby

Former Shepherd Center patient Debbie Riggsby found independence and purpose in an unexpected way.

The first time Debbie Riggsby tried on a pair of gloves from a company called Gloves for Life, she hated them. She was undergoing rehabilitation at Shepherd Center after sustaining a C-6-7 complete spinal cord injury from a fall down her basement stairs in Roanoke, Virginia, and a physical therapist handed her a pair. 

“I didn’t like the way they felt on my hands,” Debbie remembers. “At that point, everything was uncomfortable.” 

The therapist persuaded her to give them a try, explaining that they would help her grip, making pushing a wheelchair much easier. Debbie finally agreed and saw what a difference they made. 

“I was able to push the manual chair, and that was so empowering,” she says. “They also helped with transfers and everyday activities like dressing myself and cooking. I became a regular customer.” 

Now Debbie and her husband, Zane, make and sell the very same gloves she once wanted nothing to do with. 

Because Debbie ordered several pairs a year, she became close with the owner, Emma Howerton, who had started making the gloves for her son, also a former Shepherd Center patient. In June 2013, Debbie called to make an order and got fateful news. 

“Emma told me that she planned to retire, and she was either going to sell the company or close it,” Debbie says. “Because we knew how much these gloves can help others, we decided to buy it.” 

Zane custom makes every pair of gloves by hand with the goal of giving each customer the best fit possible. Debbie orders the supplies, processes the orders, and helps prepare the orders for shipping. 

While the gloves facilitated her mobility and independence, owning the company gave her purpose. After the accident, Debbie couldn’t help Zane with the painting and janitorial services company they have owned since 1995. 

“I was feeling lost – I wanted to do something,” Debbie says. “This made me feel like I could contribute.” 

She also supports people on the other end of the phone, especially those ordering gloves for the first time. 

“I tell them as a quadriplegic, I am a glove wearer, and these gloves enable me to be as independent as I am,” she says. “And I hear them breathe a sigh of relief. I hate that people need them, but I’m glad we can help make life a little easier for them. It’s very rewarding.”


Written by Sara Baxter

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.