From Near and Far
Keith Polischuk, 34, of Marietta, Ga., doesn’t know how long he spent underwater the summer evening in 2005 when he sustained a C-5 spinal cord injury in a diving accident. “But I learned I could hold my breath for a terribly long time,” he says.
Swimming with friends in the ocean, Keith tried to dive from the edge of a sandbar into a deeper channel of water. “I misjudged the depth and didn’t get out far enough,” he recalls, “and I slammed my head into the sand. I was instantly paralyzed, but I never lost consciousness. I remember all that time waiting until my friends realized something was really wrong and were able to get me out.”
Keith spent most of the next three weeks in a medically induced coma until he was stabilized and transferred to Shepherd Center.
“I loved that they took the rehab seriously and challenged me,” he says, “because I approached it seriously. I was going to work every day. It was my job. Ifyou put a lot into it, they really maximize what you get out of the program.”
Today, in addition to a full-time day job, he has gotten back into photography and is developing a website offering wheelchair-friendly travel tips. In 2011, he married his wife, Hattie, and the couple’s first child was born in August.
Having moved recently from Massachusetts to metro Atlanta, the Polischuks – along with Keith’s service dog, a Great Dane named Hudson– have become peer supporters at Shepherd Center. “I learned so much from other wheelchair users who came in to talk when I was there,” he says. “Seeing other people with spinal cord injuries get on with their lives meant the most to me. I want to be that kind of resource.”
Fort Valley, Ga.
Allyson (Ally) Arnold, 23, of Fort Valley, Ga., spent last year as the head coach of Covenant Academy’s C-team softball and women’s basketball squads in Macon, Ga.
“I really love the kids and just want to pour my heart into them,” she says. “I’ve always been really competitive. I can’t perform athletically at the level I used to before my accident. So this is how I can compete and contribute now. The Lord has other things in store for me. If it glorifies him, that brings joy to me.”
Ally sustained a traumatic brain injury in January 2011 during a missed jump on a snowboarding trip with her church in Boone, N.C. Her injury was classified as a Rancho 4 upon admission to Shepherd Center. Rehabilitation brought her back physically, but her vision was impaired, making reading a laborious, frustrating challenge.
Further work through Shepherd Pathways’ outpatient program helped. “It was frustrating at first to even read a simple paragraph,” Ally says. “I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that without Pathways, I wouldn’t have recovered as much as I did.”
Ally will serve as an assistant coach at Covenant this school year. She doesn’t have time for head coaching duties because she’ll be going back to school as a student herself, studying health and human performance at Georgia Military College.
“I think I’d like to be a physical trainer in high school or college athletics, focusing on injury prevention,” Ally says. “I like to help people. I’d love to mix my profession with ministry, too, to give hope and encouragement through my faith and what I’ve learned. I’m open to whatever God opens up.”
Panama City, Fla.
Tommy Hicks, 38, of Panama City, Fla., says he appreciates daily how far he has come in the past eight years. In June 2004, a man tried to rob Tommy and his cousin. In the course of the attempt, the assailant shot Tommy. The bullet entered through his neck and hit his C-5 and -6 vertebrae.
“Honestly, it’s still an ongoing transition,” Tommy says of life with quadriplegia. “I’m still not finished adjusting. There’s never really been a final process accepting that change. You just adapt and live day by day, and work to make the best of the situation.”
And he has. Tommy recently earned an associate’s degree in computer science, earning a 3.9 GPA to graduate summa cum laude. He plans to work toward a bachelor’s degree next, most likely at Florida State University. Tommy studies at night in a house of his own, one that is disability-friendly right down to its voice-activation technology, provided thanks to a Florida homeownership assistance program.
“I was definitely afraid when I got to Shepherd Center back in July of ’04,” Tommy says, “but I was ready to start rehabbing and to learn how to move on with life.
“The people at Shepherd Center were awesome,” he adds. “It was just unbelievable. I always felt like there were angels at Shepherd Center – all the staff, the way that everything was set up, the way even patients would help each other out. It was an awesome experience, and it gave me confidence as much as anything.”
Brad Smith, 35, of Decatur, Ga., and his wife, Carrie, have always biked together. “It’s been our lifestyle,” he says.
In 2010, that lifestyle was put on hold. On June 1, a car pulled out in front of Brad while he was riding. The ensuing crash left him paralyzed from the waist down. Ten days later, Brad contracted a rare autoimmune disorder called Guillain Barré, which temporarily paralyzed his upper body.
“It was such a crazy thing to get,” he says. “It delayed me starting my rehabilitation at Shepherd. By the time I recovered and got there, I had no upper body strength at all. It had just zapped me. I was in a neck brace and a back brace for three months. The rehab was hard in that condition.”
But he worked at it for three months as an inpatient and throughout the rest of 2010 in Shepherd’s outpatient physical and occupational therapy programs. Today, the Georgia State University graduate assistant is pursuing a master’s degree in school counseling. And Brad is also a member of the Shepherd Spinners, a wheelchair racing team sponsored by Shepherd Center.
“It’s huge for me,” Brad says. “If it wasn’t for Shepherd to help with financing, I wouldn’t be able to race like this.”
He completed the Atlanta Marathon on his handcycle in fall 2011, then placed sixth overall in the Tri-1 Division at the U.S. Paratriathlon Championships in Austin, Texas, in May 2012.
Just as important, Brad and his wife are riding together again. The couple even started a paratriathlon program in Atlanta with weekly workouts to get more involvement among athletes with disabilities. “We want to show others what’s possible – to help other injured riders see that they can do this again.”
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.