Project Rollway Features Shepherd Center’s Youngest Patients
In its seventh year, Project Rollway continues to support the hospital’s adolescent rehabilitation program.
When Jami Bassett, 17, from Springfield, Georgia, participated in Project Rollway three years ago, she was still in the inpatient stage of Shepherd Center’s Adolescent Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program.
A rising high school sophomore, she was in a car crash where she sustained a spinal cord injury and paralysis from the waist down. She didn’t think she’d walk again. But when she saw former patients from the adolescent spinal cord and brain injury rehabilitation programs roll and walk down the runway, she said it took all that away and made her believe that walking again was possible.
Jami’s goal after that was to step across the stage to accept her degree from Effingham County High School.
She did that on May 25, 2019. She now plans to attend Ogeechee Technical College, in Statesboro, Georgia, to study radiology.
On Friday night, June 21, as lights flashed and music blared inside a transformed Livingston Gym, Jami returned to Shepherd Center to model again. This time, she walked down the runway – aided by forearm crutches and with a hand from event co-chair Ashley Kim, MPT, ATC – before a sold-out crowd.
“I just don’t want to trip,” she said jokingly before the show. “If I do that, it’s game over.”
Project Rollway, an annual event hosted every June by the adolescent rehabilitation team, is at once reunion, celebration of milestones and affirmation of all the hard work put in by patients and staff. Proceeds help support fun outings and special events for Shepherd Center’s youngest patients, as well as programs that keep patients’ education on track and ensure a smooth transition back to their communities.
Fashions are provided by local and national retailers, including Banana Republic, Dapper Attire, Elk Head Clothing, The London Trading Company, Megan Huntz, Patagonia and Reboundwear®.
Models for Project Rollway’s seventh edition included 20 adolescents who are currently in or have previously participated in rehabilitation for spinal cord or brain injuries – or both – at Shepherd Center. Models represented a half-dozen states and updated the audience on their plans for the future, including enrollment at colleges such as the University of Texas, University of Tennessee, University of Georgia and Elon University, among others.
For many of Shepherd Center’s therapists, catching up with former patients is a yearly highlight.
“This is why I do what I do,” says Sarah Leonard, a physical therapist, PT, DPT. “This is what Shepherd is – the after.”
Former patients caught up with each other backstage, and others visited current patients to provide support and encouragement.
Before the show, while visiting the fourth-floor room he lived in during his inpatient stay at Shepherd Center, Camden Lang, 15, from St. Mary’s, Georgia, spoke to a young patient recently admitted to the adolescent spinal cord injury rehabilitation program.
“I told him when I first came here, I didn’t think this day would come,” says Camden, who sustained a spinal cord injury when a car hit a disabled golf cart he was pushing by the side of a road. “I told him to keep his head up, that it was OK to be upset, but don’t stay upset.”
Camden says the adolescent rehabilitation program “helped all of us emotionally, as well as physically. We all supported each other.”
Project Rollway was also an emotional night for parents.
“This is our family,” says Mark Lang, Camden’s father, of Shepherd Center. “Everybody here was so loving and caring and aggressive in helping Camden.”
Katie Kimball, MS-OT, OTR/L, occupational therapist and event co-chair, says Project Rollway is a night for the models to be pampered, primped and applauded for simply being themselves.
“They get up there and they’re just a person who’s dressed up, looking beautiful and being loved on by 400 people who see the progress they’ve made,” she says. “It’s an extension of my job – the best part.”
Adolescent rehabilitation program counselor Cheryl Linden, LPC, OT, emcees the event every year with heart and humor. And, she knows well the event’s intent – and impact.
“We want these young people to be able to have a platform to show you what they have accomplished,” Linden says. “To give hope to those who are not quite where they are, and for a brief moment, be in the spotlight where it is all about them.”
To watch Project Rollway, visit our Facebook Live feed.
Read more about Shepherd Center's adolescent rehabilitation program here.
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 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.