Atlanta, GA,
14:23 PM

Ready for Adventure

Ivan Rodriguez credits Shepherd Center with giving him the confidence to advocate for himself and the tools to make memories with his family.

Ivan Rodriguez’s days are full. He enjoys spending time with his wife and 8-year-old son and has more hobbies – and pets – than you can count. He loves animals, and his menagerie includes parrots, tropical fish, tarantulas, and his dog, Mario.

Ivan and his son work together to care for their pets.

“He’s my right-hand man. We do a lot of bonding through animals,” Ivan says.

Six years ago, Ivan sustained a complete spinal cord injury at work. He was driving a tractor with a front-end loader when the load slipped, pulling him from the tractor, which ran over him. Ivan remembers it all vividly. “I'm lucky to be alive,” he says.

After extensive surgery and 12 days in Singing River’s Pascagoula Hospital in Mississippi, Ivan transferred to Shepherd Center.

“My wife and my mom chose to move me here, and that was the best decision they could have made for me,” he reflects.

Ivan spent nearly four months in the Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program at Shepherd. His wife, Selina, was by his side.

“She was here with me 100 percent of the time. She wanted to learn everything,” he remembers. “My main focus was to remain strong for my wife and son, so I told myself, ‘You’ve got this.’ I was going hard in therapy - I wanted to do more and do better,” he says.

So, when Ivan heard he was a candidate for tendon transfers at Shepherd Center’s Upper Extremity Rehabilitation Clinic, he was all in. These surgeries take a tendon from one place in the body where they will not impact function and move them to another area where there is a need.

“The surgeries let me be able to pinch and grasp with my hands again. That has been a total game changer because of what I can do for myself now,” he explains.

Throughout his rehabilitation, Ivan also participated in recreation therapy, where the team, including associate manager of recreation therapy Cecilia Rider, MS, CTRS, helped him master valuable skills. They took field trips to the grocery store and the Children’s Museum of Atlanta with Ivan’s young son, boosting Ivan’s confidence and pulling him out of his shell.

“Cecilia helped me get out of that dark space, that place where I was just shy or embarrassed or ashamed – I don't know what word to choose. I just didn't want to go out. I didn't want to be seen in the chair,” he recalls.

Ivan reached an even bigger milestone this year – he and his wife participated in Shepherd’s Adventure Skills Workshop (ASW), a weekend of hands-on practice in adventurous activities.

“ASW was a life-changing experience – it got me swimming, jet skiing, and water tubing. It was just amazing,” he says.

After ASW, Ivan and his family decided to travel to the Dominican Republic, where Ivan grew up. Ivan credits Cecilia and the recreation therapy team with helping them prepare for the trip, including planning a practice outing to the airport.

“Cecilia helped us lose our fear. All those tips and tools that she gave my wife directly meant my wife was able to handle it. We did everything safely, and we had a great time.”

Back at home, his tendon transfers have allowed Ivan to pick up gaming again, and he loves to play with his son. He’s also been flying drones as a hobby and is considering how it might translate into a profession.

“I’m able to do everything, just a little bit differently,” Ivan says. “I take every little good thing that comes as a great win, and I just use it to keep pushing forward.”


Written by Ruth Underwood

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.