Reclaiming Her Wings
Tiffany Vinson credits Shepherd Center’s Wheelchair Seating Clinic with helping her find the right chair to fit her lifestyle.
Tiffany Vinson is passionate — about people and about travel. Early in her career, she found a way to combine those two loves, and, she adds with a laugh, “look cute in my uniform.” She began working as a flight attendant.
“I loved being a flight attendant,” she recalls. “I thought it was amazing to meet people from all different walks of life.”
But after a couple of years in her dream job, Tiffany noticed something wasn’t quite right — she was experiencing some weakness when she walked. In her mid-20s she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) and made the difficult choice to give up her wings. She moved on to a career in banking and finance, but the travel bug never left her, and in 2018, she started her own travel agency, Trip With Tiff Travel™.
A few years ago, when her MS made it increasingly difficult for her to walk, Tiffany got a small manual wheelchair. When she realized it wasn’t providing the independence she wanted, her doctor recommended the Wheelchair Seating Clinic at Shepherd Center. Therapists in the seating clinic help inpatients and outpatients find seating and mobility aids to fit their needs and lifestyles.
Tiffany was hesitant. She didn’t like the idea of needing a more powerful wheelchair and was uncomfortable with the attention it might attract. She says she arrived at the clinic with her mind set on something small and speedy.
“It was overwhelming because you look in the room, and there are so many wheelchairs,” she recalls.
But Tiffany remembers her conversation with Tori Fallgren, a physical therapist in the seating clinic, and how Tori helped her think about the future. “It was a conversation about my journey. What are some of the things I want to do? And based on those conversations and her experience, she knew which chair would be a better fit for me.”
Tiffany appreciated the clinic staff’s knowledge and support.
“They were just amazing. Just the heart. I know they have a job to do, but it was the heart,” she explains.
Ultimately, Tiffany chose a power chair with a lift that allows her to complete household tasks and move around more independently. The next big goal: indulging her love of travel and taking her chair with her. Tiffany and her husband were nervous about flying with her wheelchair — afraid it would get damaged during the trip. But she recalls telling her husband, “I didn’t get this chair to keep it in the house. I need to live with the chair, and I need to be seen in this chair — people need to see me.”
Tiffany credits some of that determination to the example her grandmother provided. Her grandmother used a wheelchair throughout Tiffany’s life. She also raised a family and ran a successful business.
“I’ve always had the mindset and the grace that she carried,” Tiffany explains.
So, Tiffany booked a trip to Mexico and, attaching notes for airline staff to the chair on how to operate and care for it, boarded the plane. She was still nervous that something would get broken or damaged. She explains with emotion, “God just honestly got me because when we got to Mexico, there were four people standing guard over my chair.”
Tiffany is planning a group trip to Mexico for people with disabilities this fall. She tells all her travel clients, “When you're packing your clothes, pack your patience. And be open to adjusting to whatever the situation is.”
Any bumps she encounters in her own travel, Tiffany takes as preparation for helping others.
“Everything that I've gone through is preparing me for what I'm destined to do: to help others who want to see the world. I'm not the first, and I'm not going to be the last. I want people to know that they can do it.”
Written by Ruth Underwood
Pursuing Possible with Shepherd Center
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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 neurological 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.