10:42 AM

From Near and Far

Jason Gavel

Griffin, Ga.

Jason Gavel, of Griffin, Ga., with his family

Jason Gavel, 27, of Griffin, Ga., woke up one Monday morning in fall 2011, and he couldn’t feel anything or move anything from his waist down.

He was fine Sunday night and paralyzed by Monday morning. Soon, he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS).

“The diagnosis was a complete shock,”

Jason says. “It put a big pause button on my life.”

Shepherd Center MS Institute neurologist Sherrill Loring, M.D., confirmed the diagnosis and started Jason on a daily injection therapy of Copaxone. Jason, who lives about 30 miles south of Shepherd Center, also began going to weekly support groups at the hospital.

“Talking to people who can relate
to what I’m going through is a huge encouragement,” he says. “The doctors are tremendous. They have given us a lot of information, including advice on insurance and employment issues.”

During one visit to Shepherd Center earlier this year, Jason was seen in
the Shepherd Pain Institute, where
his physician discovered two holes in discs in his back. They stemmed from previous spinal taps that had gone awry. So, Jason recently had surgery to repair those discs, and he expects to make a full recovery soon.

“I haven’t had any symptoms from the MS since being on the daily therapy of injections,” Jason says. “As soon as I get out of this back brace, I can get back to a so-called normal life.”

Sam “Sonny” Novotny

Osspee, N.H.

Sam “Sonny” Novotny, 46, of Ossipee, N.H.

Sam “Sonny” Novotny, 46, of Ossipee, N.H., sustained a T-11 to -12 incomplete spinal cord injury in 2008 in a snowmobile accident. Sonny believes that had he not found his way to Shepherd Center four years ago, he might not be walking today.

As it is, Sonny walks, sometimes with a cane, and uses an electric scooter on long outings. That’s the good news.

The not-so-good news is that he still experiences a lot of pain, he says.

“I was totally paralyzed when I left
the Maine Medical Center to come to Shepherd Center,” Sonny recalls. “I
really lucked out by getting there. It was amazing. I know if we ever win the lottery, we’re going to donate.

“But the pain is almost the same as
it was when I left Shepherd Center four years ago,” he explains “My lower back and the nerves around my waist hurt every day. But I can get around the house, and I hunt and get on my four- wheeler and play in the snow and do some gardening.”

Recently, Sonny and his wife Kim have found themselves fighting another battle.

Their son, Nicholas, 22, was recently diagnosed with lymphoma.

“He’s my right hand man in a lot of what I do,” Sonny says. “It’s a hard time on all of us.”

Taylor Relford

Gadsden, Ala.

Taylor Relford, of Gadsden, Ala., with his mom

Taylor Relford, 25, of Gadsden, Ala., was a student at Auburn University when he sustained a brain injury in an automobile accident. He was in a coma at University of Alabama-Birmingham Medical Center for a couple of months following the accident. Then he was transferred to Shepherd Center for rehabilitation.

Ultimately, Taylor graduated from Auburn in December 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies with concentrations in agronomy and soils, as well as agricultural economics. As a brain injury survivor, Taylor readily admits that his studies took more work than it might have pre-injury.

“School was very hard,” Taylor says. “It was a constant battle to pass every course. I did everything I could to pass. At Auburn, as part of the work toward my degree, I worked on the athletic fields turf. It always was a dream to work on those fields. I worked on golf courses, too.”

For Taylor, adjusting socially after his injury was a bit easier than the academic adjustment.

“Everything is going great socially,” he says. “I was always very social before my wreck. I knew people might look at me and think something is different, but I had enough self-confidence not to let that bother me at all. This is me. Take it or leave it.”

Taylor’s self-confident attitude turns to one of sheer appreciation when
he speaks of his mother’s dedicated caregiving and support.

“Mom has been such a help for me,” he says. “She’s always very supportive. I owe everything to her. She never let me have doubts that I was going to get back to where I wanted to be.”

Brook Waddle

Landrum, S.C.

Brook Waddle of Landrum, S.C.

Brook Waddle, 24, of Landrum, S.C., sustained a C-5 spinal cord injury seven years ago in an automobile accident. She was a high school cheerleader on her way to cheer at a ballgame. Now, Brook is finding fulfillment in other ways, including her online studies with Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU).

While the accident has been devastating, it didn’t take Brook long to experience the love of and help from those around her.

“Upon returning home, I was featured in the local newspapers, asking what
I planned on doing now that I was back,” Brook writes. She is unable to talk because of a tracheotomy that
has remained in place. “Fortunately, a professor from FDU saw my story and read that I still wanted to pursue college.

Through my late Professor Randall Colon, I received a full scholarship in psychology, and I plan to eventually earn a master’s degree. After completion of my master’s, I plan on applying for a position in the Psychology Department at Shepherd Center.”

For now, Brook enjoys being a student at Fairleigh Dickinson. “Even though
I am physically disabled, I am just the same mentally as any of my fellow classmates,” she writes.

Brook notes that Shepherd Center counselor Cheryl Linden inspired her career choice. “When I was a patient, Cheryl and I would go to the rooms
of patients who were too nervous or embarrassed to leave their room and get them to join the therapy group,” Brook recalls. “Cheryl opened my eyes to let me see I could still have a career in the medical field.”

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.