From Near and Far
Mischa Brady, 31, of Boise, Idaho, served two tours of duty with the U.S. Marines in Iraq in 2003 and 2004. During his second tour, stationed near the Syrian border in Iraq’s dangerous Anbar region, an improvised explosive device (IED) detonated and knocked him unconscious. The improvisation in this case was a 155mm artillery shell packed with C-4 explosives.
“It was early on. Nobody thought much about traumatic brain injuries,” Mischa says. “I wasn’t bleeding, no broken bones. I took some Motrin and drank some water, and continued my patrol. And I finished the rest of my nine-month tour.”
Those months became blurred with migraines, insomnia and abnormal anger. “But when you’re in a pack of people that all have the same problems, you don’t really think twice about it,” he says.
Returning home revealed the depth of Mischa’s problems. Eventually, he found his way to Shepherd Center and its SHARE Military Initiative, which provides comprehensive rehabilitation care for service members with traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I’d been avoiding a lot of things, and I didn’t want to leave home, frankly,” Mischa says. “But it turned out to be exactly what I needed.”
He received help for physical and mental health issues, and took advantage of volunteer opportunities set up by Shepherd Center, allowing him to find new passions.
Shepherd Center also connected Mischa to the Wounded Warrior Project, another base of support in his recovery. Last fall, Mischa received an associate’s degree from the College of Western Idaho. Now, he’s pursuing a bachelor’s degree in history at Boise State University, where he’s active in a veterans group called the Wyakin Warrior Foundation.
“My time at Shepherd really set the stage for everything I’ve done since,” Mischa says. “They got me out of my comfort zone. That was really the only way I was going to get better.”
PANAMA CITY, FLORIDA
Michael Harris, 34, of Panama City, Fla., feels like he grew up outdoors. “I was fortunate to have a dad who got me outdoors, and it’s always been my love,” he says.
About eight years ago, Michael and his dad, Johnny, began volunteering with a group that provided outdoor adventures to people with terminal illness or disability.
Eventually, father and son decided to start their own nonprofit organization and expand on the concept.
In 2008, the Harrises founded Seasons of Hope (www.seasonsofhopeinc.org). It offers personalized hunting, fishing, camping and other outdoor opportunities to people with terminal illness or disability, as well as disadvantaged children and wounded veterans.
Less than a year later, on March 30, 2009, Michael was lying under a stack of 23 sheets of plywood that had crashed down on him. He’d been helping a friend organize a warehouse when he sustained a C-5 and C-7 spinal cord injury in the accident. Michael spent a month on a ventilator, in a medically induced coma.
“It was a whole different world when I finally arrived at Shepherd Center,” he recalls. “It’s such a personal place. I can go back there today, and doctors I had will still say hello to me by name.” At Shepherd, he steadily worked to re-establish his independence. He had a goal in mind: to get back outdoors and continue helping others. Today, he is busier than ever — finding new sponsors and organizing outings for Seasons of Hope.
“At first, the vision we had was just to take kids out to hunt and fish, give them a break,” Michael says. “But now we’re moving more toward a full ministry. We want to start a mentoring program. It’s gone above and beyond what we ever thought it would be.”
Josh Inglett, 19 of Augusta, Ga., had sustained a T-9 spinal cord injury in a car accident when he arrived at Shepherd Center in November 2012. Josh couldn’t sit up in bed, and a fractured shoulder blade further slowed his physical rehabilitation.
He credits Herndon Murray, M.D., medical director of Shepherd Center’s Spinal Cord Injury Program, as his chief inspiration. “Every time he came in your room, he had you laughing the whole time,” Josh says. “He kept everybody laughing. And he listened. He paid attention to what you needed.”
Josh gradually progressed from sitting up to getting dressed to washing his clothes, cooking and cleaning. He participated in Shepherd Center outings that strengthened his independence. He went to a movie and transferred from his wheelchair toa seat. He went horseback riding.
Josh even became an artist. Sort of. “I’m no artist,” he says with a laugh. But if you enter Shepherd Center’s main foyer, where its “Hall of Fame” busts are located, you will see a sculpture by Josh.
“They have all those bronzed heads in there, and one day I said, ‘Dang, Dr. Murray’s been here since this place started. Why doesn’t he have one?’”
His therapists challenged him to correct the oversight. “They asked me, ‘Why don’t you make him one then?’” Josh recalls.
So he did, crafting a bust of Dr. Murray out of tinsel, clay and bronze-colored spray paint. “It’s crazy,” he says. “That thing started with just a little ball of tinsel. But they got me to do it. It ended up helping my flexibility a lot, too.”
Josh returned to Shepherd Center recently to pass his adapted driving evaluation. On his way in, he passed his bust of Dr. Murray, which still adorns the entryway’s venerable “Hall of Fame.”
Debbie Hochbaum, 54, of Atlanta, knows she has to be in good shape if she wants to continue seeing ghosts.
Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1994, Debbie has not let her condition inhibit her passion: She and her husband, Tony, are professional ghost-hunters, offering free paranormal investigations of potentially haunted abodes across Georgia and South Carolina.
“Tony had actually organized the group before I ever met him,” Debbie says. “I joined and started going to all the events. Eventually, I started helping him organize the outings. We were friends for a year before he asked me out!”
Today, Debbie and Tony run the Association of Paranormal Explorers (APEX) as relative newlyweds. They married just more than two years ago. “This is just something we both love to do,” she says with a laugh. “And I’m really enjoying my life.”
Debbie credits her vibrant life to good nutrition and physical exercise, which she gets in weekly doses through Shepherd Center’s MS Wellness Center. She participates in cardio, meditation, yoga and core exercise classes.
“I try to grab as many classes as I can!” she says. “The cardio is my favorite because it forces me to move my body the way I need to. It keeps me moving.”
And that’s good. Because Debbie is busy. In addition to her paranormal research, she is a grandmother of eight, teammates with her husband in a bowling league and a new member of Shepherd Center’s Consumer Advisory Board.
Beyond the physical benefits, Debbie says her wellness classes provide her with something else. “Everybody’s so friendly and upbeat there,” she says. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen an angry face. And that’s important. I’m a social person, and I need to be around positive people. That reinforcement helps me as much as anything else.”
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.