North Carolina Woman Returns to a Life of Adventure after Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation
Maggie Gettys says Shepherd Center prepared her to navigate the "non-accessible world."
Maggie Gettys, 22, from Hickory, North Carolina, lived in a cabin with her co-workers while working a summer job for a whitewater rafting company in 2016.
Maggie slept in the loft. The crude wall ladder she climbed to enter and leave it could be daunting, but the recreation management major at Appalachian State University thought it was kind of fun – until she fell.
Paralyzed from her waist down, Maggie was taken to Mission Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina. She transferred two weeks later to Shepherd Center’s Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program.
She quickly knew she’d come to the right place.
“Everyone was so knowledgeable,” she says. “And it made me feel so comfortable being with people going through the same thing I was.”
Maggie made such rapid progress she soon became “terrified to leave.”
“I thought, ‘I better slow down,’” she says. “I knew Shepherd Center was where I could get the best physical therapy for my legs.”
After three weeks in the inpatient program, Maggie moved to the Spinal Cord Injury Day Program. She lived with her family at the donor-funded Irene and George Woodruff Family Residence Center on Shepherd Center’s campus.
“I’d have a full day of therapy, go back to the apartment, go to
bed, wake up and do it again,” she says. “I loved the day program.”
When Maggie went home three weeks later, she could walk with the assistance of a walker. She returned to college in Boone, North Carolina, the following spring, living in her own apartment and using lessons she learned at Shepherd Center to navigate the old mountain town.
“Shepherd Center prepared me for the non-accessible world,” she says.
The challenges weren’t all physical.
“Coming back to school and watching friends run and hike when I couldn’t was hard emotionally,” she says. “It still is. But I slowly found ways to do what I liked again.”
Maggie interned this winter with an adaptive ski lesson program at a nearby resort while she skied for fun a couple times a week. “I’m finally off the bunny slope,” she says.
Maggie earned her degree in the spring of 2019 and next she plans to enroll in the recreational therapy master’s program at the University of Utah.
“I’m not going to change my path just because of my disability,” Maggie says. “I’m going to figure out a way to make it work.”
Written by Drew Jubera
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.