In My Empowered Era: Mariah Neibert’s Story
After sustaining a spinal cord injury, Mariah Neibert worked with her therapy team to overcome obstacles and attend the concert of a lifetime.
In November 2022, Mariah Neibert accomplished what many could not – she got tickets to the Taylor Swift concert in Atlanta, Georgia. While she knew the wait for the concert would be long, she also knew it would be worth it.
When Mariah started experiencing severe back pain between her shoulders on March 21, she knew she had to get to the hospital. On the way to St. Mary’s Hospital in Athens, Georgia, panic set in as Mariah went numb from her breastbone down. After doctors assessed her at St. Mary’s, Mariah learned she had sustained a spinal cord injury due to a blood clot.
Following her diagnosis, Mariah transferred to Shepherd Center on April 3, uncertain of what to expect, but with a discharge date the same day as the Taylor Swift concert.
“Coming to Shepherd, I had no idea what relationships with my therapists would look like,” Mariah explains. “But my whole team liked Taylor Swift, and my therapist, Katie, had a ticket to the concert, too. So, it was really helpful in easing my nerves by having something in common, and we formed a relationship quickly. I thought I’d go to therapy and just leave after, but I found myself staying later to talk to them.”
When Mariah’s therapists found out she was going to the Taylor Swift concert, they turned every rehabilitation exercise into an opportunity to help get Mariah to the show. Art therapy became time for Mariah to make the trademark friendship bracelets traded at the show, and showers became a jam session for Mariah and occupational therapist Katie Kimball, OTR/L, RYT-200.
“You could hear Taylor Swift music blaring down the hall when she took a shower,” Kimball laughs. “Mariah’s goal attainment scale always came back to the Taylor Swift concert.”
Roughly two weeks into her rehabilitation journey, Mariah experienced a setback in her bowel program that put her dreams of seeing Taylor live on hold. When someone experiences a spinal cord injury, the communication between their brain and the nerves controlling the bowel muscles can be disrupted, resulting in difficulties with regular bowel movements. A bowel program for spinal cord injury refers to a routine or set of steps that individuals with spinal cord injuries follow to manage their bowel movements.
“The bowel program I was on just was not working for my body,” Mariah explains. “I told Katie I was going to sell my ticket, but she convinced me to give her one more week. My team advocated for me to change my program, and by that next weekend, my bowel program was changed. It was so much better!”
Equipped with new confidence, Mariah continued to progress. Her therapy team worked with her on car transfers, putting on leggings to go underneath her “Evermore” album-inspired dress, and helping her friends understand how to break down and reassemble her wheelchair.
As the day of the concert and Mariah’s discharge approached, the team realized they had missed an important step: the tickets. Mariah bought her tickets long before she sustained her spinal cord injury, and there was no way she could make it to her seat. She teamed up with Kimball to call the venue to get her seats changed – to no avail. Luckily, Kimball had one last trick up her sleeve – a contact who worked at the venue and was able to move Mariah to an accessible seat.
Finally – it was happening! The day of the concert, Mariah got dressed with her friends, and they made their way to the stadium for a life-changing experience, in more ways than one.
“It was truly eye-opening,” Mariah says. “This was my first big outing outside of Shepherd Center. I got so many people saying ‘I’m so sorry’ and moving out of the way. It was interesting to navigate a concert as a person with a disability.”
While at the concert, Mariah and Kimball met up to celebrate this huge victory for Mariah and of course, jam out to Taylor Swift.
Today, Mariah is continuing her rehabilitation in Shepherd Center’s Spinal Cord Injury Day Rehabilitation Program, visiting her therapists and reminiscing about the concert and the progress she’s made since beginning her rehabilitation journey.
“The concert was amazing! I wouldn’t have changed my decision to go and not sell my ticket,” Mariah says. “I couldn’t have done it without my therapy team. They were so helpful in shaping the way I did things. Not just for the concert, but for life.”
Written by Lindsey Rieben
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. Ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top 10 hospitals for rehabilitation and the best in the Southeast, Shepherd Center treats more than 850 inpatients and 7,600 outpatients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.