13:19 PM

Running the Race

It’s not unusual for a Shepherd Center patient and her doctors and therapists to bond – even to the extent of staying in touch with one another for months, or even years, after discharge.

But a truly special connection formed between Kimberly Sheerin, 48, of Winter Haven, Fla., and her treatment team. Kimberly sustained a C-3 incomplete spinal cord injury (SCI) in an automobile accident in April 2011 and was diagnosed with central cord syndrome, which impairs the upper extremities disproportionately more than the lower extremities. She completed inpatient rehabilitation at Shepherd last spring.

“From time to time, you have a patient where you just know that you’d be friends with them, even if they were not a patient,” says Anna Choo Elmers, M.D., a Shepherd Center physiatrist. “She is very spunky and is a glass half-full kind of person. It made treating her a lot of fun.”

So much fun, Dr. Elmers says, that she and the entire Shepherd Center team that treated Kimberly made an agreement with her before she left Shepherd Center.

“Someone at Shepherd told me about a patient who had a similar injury to mine who was running in races now,” Kimberly recalls. “I asked my PT, Jennifer Smith, if she thought I could do that – run in a race someday. She said she thought I could. I said OK, how about Feb. 25, 2012? Could I run the Disney 5K that soon? She not only said she thought I could, but that she’d run it with me.”

Kimberly proudly shows off her Disney 5K medal.

Kimberly – who is the entertainment safety auditor at Disney, where she’s worked on and off since 1987, when she started as a performer – was injured on April 18, 2011 when she was a backseat passenger in a car that was hit twice. At the scene, she couldn’t move and was later diagnosed with quadriplegia. After 10 days of excellent acute care at Lakeland Regional Hospital, doctors there quickly transferred her to Shepherd Center for rehabilitation.

“I was rolled in on a gurney and was determined to walk out of Shepherd Center when I was done,” Kimberly recalls. “This team of amazing therapists had me walking within a couple of weeks. I had so much trust in them that any time they asked if I wanted to try something, I said yes because I knew they’d only ask me to do things that I could eventually do. I remember the first time I stood, it was like winning the lottery.”

Kimberly participates in locomotor training at Shepherd Center.

Before Kimberly was discharged, her entire treatment team agreed to travel to Orlando to run alongside Kimberly in the 5K.

“When I left, they said they’d figure it out and do it. I had faith that they were serious,” Kimberly says. “The accident was awful and painful, but I feel so blessed to have gotten to know these people. I couldn’t imagine my life without them.

They signed up for the race, and we all started training.”

Kimberly’s physical therapist, Jennifer Smith, DPT, says she knew Kimberly would do well after getting to know her a little bit. But this? No.

“Shortly after meeting Kimberly, I figured out she was a fighter, extremely determined and was willing to work hard through the blood pressure issues, fatigue and tears,” Smith recalls. “I can’t say I predicted she would be running 3.1 miles less than a year from her injury, but I knew she would do well.”

Kimberly says she’s never been much of a runner, though she has participated in a 10K race. “But I used to be a dancer, and my cardiovascular fitness is not a problem at all,” she says.

Still, as she runs, Kimberly has to will herself to plow though a wall of pain.

“Muscle fatigue is the thing I really have to work through,” she explains.

“Everything is amplified a billion percent for me. I can’t even explain the muscle pain, other than to say it’s like a hot iron being shoved down into those muscles when I push myself.”

So why push like this to run a 5K?

“There are no words to explain the happiness it brought me for my Shepherd treatment team to run the Disney 5K with me,” Kimberly says. “I realized how this accident affected people other than me and my family. I got positive results in my recovery that not everyone does. Everyone was so joyful and happy to have been a part of what I think was a miracle. I want other patients in the future to know that this might be something they can do. And regardless, this was a great way to celebrate the success we’ve all had.”

On Feb. 25, all wearing specially designed, matching Shepherd Center T-shirts that read “Run and your whole team runs with you,” Dr. Elmers, Smith, Bridget Bitterman, Emily Buchman, Rachel Roback, Debra Eldred, Angella Clemons and Cheryl Linden joined Kimberly in crossing the finish line in a little less than one hour.

“It was the first time we’ve done something like this,” Dr. Elmers says. “And it was a great reunion and celebration.”

Smith adds:  “Kimberly was always very positive and upbeat and served as a role model for many other patients during her stay at Shepherd. So it was the least we could do for and with her to help celebrate her amazing recovery.”

See the Disney video about Kimberly and her Shepherd team at:

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.