Have Chair, Will Travel – Solo: Eamon O’Regan's Story
Shepherd Center’s Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program helped Eamon O’Regan continue to follow the call of faraway places.
During Eamon O’ Regan’s time in Shepherd Center’s Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program, he experienced highs and lows as he learned a new normal after sustaining a spinal cord injury.
“There were times I was so beat up in my head that I wanted to cry,” he says. “And I did cry. But then I wiped the tears away and said let’s go!”
That determination paid off. Fast forward three years, and you would find Eamon sitting in the sun in Buenos Aires, Argentina, sipping coffee at an outdoor café. A lifelong traveler and adventurer, Eamon decided that his first solo international trip after his injury would be to a place he had never been, where he did not speak the language, and where he would have to plan everything more carefully to make sure his wheelchair would have access.
Eamon is a native of Ireland who caught the travel bug as a young man.
“I was always interested in geography and history,” he says. “I would see images of faraway places and I always wanted to go to those places.”
Australia was as far away as he knew, so when he was 22, he moved there for seven months to explore the country. After that, he visited France, Greece, Croatia, Singapore, and Mexico.
In 2006, he moved to the United States to live permanently, got a job working in a hospital in Pensacola, Florida, and continued traveling.
He has no memory of the head-on collision that happened in January 2019, or the days that followed. Among other injuries, he sustained an L-2 spinal cord injury and was referred to Shepherd Center for rehabilitation.
“I worked with the most wonderful people at Shepherd Center,” he says. “It truly was a family environment from day 1, and I knew I was working with individuals who would help me see my potential."
One program that was especially beneficial to the world traveler was Shepherd Center's monthly patient outing to Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport. In partnership with Delta Air Lines, patients who use wheelchairs receive hands-on training to increase self-reliance and confidence with travel.
“I think the greatest lesson I learned from my four months at Shepherd is to advocate for oneself,” he added. “Whether it be transferring to your seat on an airplane, to making reservations at a hotel. Always remind yourself to control the narrative. Because often people think they know what is best. When in reality, you do.”
After discharging from Shepherd, he moved back to Pensacola to live with a friend who had her apartment fitted for wheelchair access. He continued rehabilitation at a local hospital and began planning his next big trip using skills he had learned at Shepherd Center.
Eamon, who is now 49, chose Buenos Aires as his first solo trip because he had met friendly Argentinians on other travels. He found an Airbnb that was wheelchair-accessible and bought a Batec Mobility handbike, a battery-powered mobility device that attaches to the front of a wheelchair.
“That turned out to be the best thing I could have done,” he says. “Pushing your wheelchair around a big city is not easy.
“I was more nervous about the language barrier than my wheelchair,” he added. “I know what my limitations are and what I can and cannot do. Preparedness is the key, and I was ready for it.”
Eamon is so ready, in fact, that he has already booked his next adventure: a five-week trip to Australia.
By Phil Kloer
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 neurological 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 740 inpatients, nearly 280 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year in more than 46,000 visits.