Atlanta, GA,
15:57 PM

Reaching New HiTes

Shepherd Center’s High Tetraplegia (HiTe) Program serves people with high-level spinal cord injuries.

In the spinal cord injury community, it’s often been said that no two spinal cord injuries are alike. Each patient and each level of injury requires a particular class of care. Cervical level injuries, especially those at the C-1 to C-4 – or the uppermost – level of the spine, are especially complex.

“By involving the uppermost part of the spinal cord, the injury affects a larger part of the body, and cervical spinal cord injuries are typically the most severe variety of spinal cord injury,” says Shari McDowell, PT, DPT, director of Shepherd Center’s Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program.

Needs of people with high-level spinal cord injuries often include breathing assistance, bowel and bladder management, specialized equipment and caregiver assistance, among others. With those needs in mind, Shepherd Center created the High Tetraplegia (HiTe) Program for patients who have been injured at the C-1 to C-4 level.

“The needs of patients with high tetraplegia require an extra level of care and education that Shepherd Center is uniquely prepared to provide,” says Polly Hopkins, MS, OTR/L, CLT, therapy manager in the Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program. “HiTe is continually evolving to best meet the needs of patients who are living with high-level injuries and for those who are caring for them.”

This specialized therapy program is a series of educational classes and experiences designed to provide education on living with high-level spinal cord injuries. Topics, such as bowel and bladder care, respiratory care, canine assistance, hiring caregivers and assistive technology, are tailored to the unique needs of people with high tetraplegia. 

“Our goal with the HiTe program is to give patients and their caregivers all of the education and support they need to return home as healthy and safe as possible,” says Leah Barid, OTR/L, ATP, who treats patients in Shepherd Center’s Assistive Technology Program. 

Therapists deliver the educational sessions with a travel theme and encourage patients and caregivers to think of each class as a destination where they can take advantage of valuable opportunities to learn and soak in the information in whatever way is best for them.

Former Shepherd Center patient Jefferey Cox, who sustained a C-1 to C-2 fracture in a football accident, participated in the HiTe program with his family while he completed rehabilitation at Shepherd Center.

“The program was very helpful,” says Alicia Parker, Jefferey’s mom. “I don't know where we would be if it weren't for Shepherd Center. Our boy is living his best life now, thanks to them.”

In addition to education, HiTe also hosts outings and social events for patients and caregivers in the program.

“The social component of HiTe is incredibly important for our patients and caregivers,” says Deb Eldred, MSCCCSLP, speech-language pathologist in Shepherd Center’s Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program. “There is immeasurable value in connecting with others who are in a similar situation and can relate to your needs and feelings.” 

Nearly half of the patients in Shepherd Center’s Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program have injuries at the C-1 to C-4 level in any given year.

“That kind of volume leads to an exceptional level of expertise and compassion among the teams who treat our most medically-complex patients,” McDowell says. “We are continually able to refine our care and create programs that meet their needs.”

Written by Kerry Ludlam

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.