Providing a Lifeline
For years, Jessica Rodriguez fought to get her husband help. Finally, they found Shepherd Center's SHARE Military Initiative – and help for them both.
In 2015, Jessica Rodriguez walked through the doors of Shepherd Center, holding onto her husband, Jorge, with one hand and a carrier with her 9-month-old baby in the other. Her 4-year-old clung to her leg. Jessica was the primary caregiver of all three members of her family. And they came to Shepherd Center for help.
Jorge Rodriguez served in Iraq as a Fleet Marine Force Corpsman in the U.S. Navy. When he returned home in 2006, he was experiencing short-term memory loss, processing issues, balance problems and would get lost when driving. Jorge sought help from the Veterans Administration (VA) hospital close to his home in Griswold, Connecticut. In 2007, he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a closed skull traumatic brain injury (TBI). According to Jessica, Jorge was only treated for the PTSD.
Jessica grew increasingly frustrated as Jorge’s symptoms worsened, including memory issues, seizures, nightmares, speech problems and trouble walking. Over a six-year period, her husband was slipping away. Though she was a relentless advocate for him, drove him to appointments and kept up with his long list of medications, nothing was working. Jorge was plunging further into depression, and Jessica was at the end of her rope.
“The man who helped so many in his service couldn’t get help himself,” Jessica says. “It was heartbreaking.”
In 2015, the Rodriguez family became aware of Shepherd Center’s SHARE Military Initiative. As soon as they were accepted, Jessica and Jorge – along with their daughters – flew to Atlanta to begin treatment at Shepherd Center.
“For the first time, I felt like we were being heard,” Jessica says.
Gradually, they began to see signs of progress. Jorge’s mood swings and nightmares were dissipating. Through multiple forms of therapy, his speech returned, his memory improved and he was walking without a shuffle.
Jessica, on the other hand, was feeling isolated. She spent her days at Shepherd Center with her girls and the nights as a family in the hotel room that was their home for three months. Jorge’s behavior at night after long days of therapy was unpredictable. She reached out for help, and Shepherd Center provided her with counseling.
“It was invaluable to me,” she says. “The counselor gave me handouts that explained the symptoms Jorge was experiencing and ways to deal with them and support him. As a spouse, it gave me a new understanding and a new outlook, as well as the tools to handle things with Jorge.”
Today, Jorge is a new man. While he still struggles with TBI symptoms, he has re-entered society. Along the way, he took up beekeeping and now makes honey in his backyard in Connecticut. He recently became a Master Beekeeper, allowing him to teach others the craft. He and Jessica are in the process of establishing a nonprofit called “Bees with Purpose” to raise money to support other veterans while teaching them beekeeping.
He also joined Shepherd’s Men, a volunteer group of civilians, active duty and retired military members who advocate for veterans and support SHARE, and has participated in several of their runs.
“Shepherd Center not only gave me back my husband, and the girls their father, but it also gave us a family through SHARE,” Jessica says. “It has been amazing.”
Jorge simply adds, “I wouldn’t be here without Shepherd Center.”
Visit shepherd.org/SHARE for more information about the program.
Written by Sara Baxter
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 740 inpatients, nearly 280 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year in more than 46,000 visits.