Atlanta, GA,
09:26 AM

Pushing Boundaries

Calista Hodge credits Shepherd Center with teaching her to advocate for herself.

Calista Hodge is a force — she’s a wife, a mom of three boys, and a leader in the company where she’s employed — a leader by title and by her work promoting equity and inclusion there. She prioritizes spending time with family and giving her sports-loving kids exposure to different cultures and experiences. She enjoys bourbon and wine tastings. She’s into CrossFit and reality TV, loves to cook, and has recently taken up knitting. Her enthusiasm for life and courageous spirit is apparent when you meet her, and when she was injured in a car crash, she relied on these qualities to get her through a difficult period in her life.

In May 2019, Calista and her family were on a road trip from Ohio to Virginia. There was a wreck ahead of them on the interstate, and traffic stopped. Calista’s SUV was hit from behind by one car and then on the side by a tractor-trailer. One of her sons had a broken femur, but the rest of her family escaped with minor injuries. Calista sustained a T-3 spinal cord injury along with many other broken bones.

Calista was air-lifted to J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, West Virginia, where she spent three weeks before transferring to the ICU at Shepherd Center.

When she arrived at Shepherd, her care team suggested Calista continue weaning from her tracheostomy, which had been helping her breathe since the accident. “Right away, they told me I should try four hours without the trach, and I thought, “Today? Are you sure?’ But I did it,” she recalls.

“That started the journey. I thought, ‘You've got just as much faith in me as I have in myself, so let's push through this together,’” she remembers. “And I gradually got to eight hours without the trach, then 12 during the day, and then after a while, I didn’t need it at all, and I was using the speaking valve to practice my breathing and get my lungs stronger.”

The recovery process was difficult, and on top of working on getting stronger, Calista was concerned about her kids.

“I wanted them to be in their environment because I felt like so much had been taken from them already. I wanted them to have a little bit of normalcy,” she explains.

So, while her mom, dad, and husband took advantage of Shepherd’s family housing so they could stay by her side, Calista’s mother-in-law stayed with their three young sons at their home in Cincinnati.

As Calista continued to heal and progress, she took advantage of every opportunity her therapists offered.

“I did the picnic in the park and learned how to do the hand-control bike. I tried basketball, but I really couldn't play basketball when I could walk, so I don't know why I thought I'd be any good,” she laughs. “That was a very short-lived activity.”  

Calista says she also learned a lot through outings with Shepherd Center’s renowned Recreation Therapy Program.

“Shepherd taught me to advocate for myself,” she says. “I was fearful about reentering society — about people not knowing what I can and can't do and leaving me out because they're afraid to figure it out or interact,” she explains. “My first breakthrough was when I went to the Mercedes-Benz Stadium to watch the Atlanta Falcons football game. That was my first trip out in the real world, and I was worried about navigating around people in my wheelchair. The team told me, ‘Don’t be bashful. Don't be afraid. You’ve got this.’ They taught us to push our boundaries.”

And Calista continues to push boundaries. In October 2019, she went home. She returned to Shepherd for a month in the Day Program, where she says she regained even more independence. By spring 2020, she was back at work full-time. Calista says Shepherd’s Peer Support Program proved invaluable during that transition. Her job requires some travel, and her peer mentor helped her think through preparations for navigating business travel without her family support system.

“The fact that they stay connected anytime you have a question is great,” she explains.

Calista wants to encourage others to keep working hard and pushing their own boundaries in whatever they do.

“I want anybody reading my story to know that the sky's the limit. You get out what you put in. So, you just have to keep working hard and challenging yourself in order to grow. And it's worth it.”

Written by Ruth Underwood

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About Shepherd Center

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. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.