Serendipity at Shepherd Center
A chance meeting as patients at Shepherd Center led to a new life together and so much more for Taylor Hammersley and Prater Christiansen.
Two young people, one from Alabama and the other from Tennessee, sustain severe brain injuries in car crashes a month apart. They are both transferred to Shepherd Center for rehabilitation and must relearn how to walk, talk, write and eat. During breakfast one day at the hospital, they meet, hit it off, recover together, fall in love, and the rest is history.
While Taylor Hammersley and Prater Christiansen admit their story sounds like it comes from a movie, they promise it’s entirely true. Though their story begins in 2017 with the harrowing experience of both surviving traumatic brain injuries (TBI), it also has a happy ending.
On August 26, 2017, Taylor was in a car crash in Alabama that led to a TBI and stroke, as well as a shattered pelvis.
“I coded for 15 minutes,” she explained. “I was airlifted to Huntsville Hospital and stayed there for about a month.”
Prater’s crash occurred in Tennessee on September 23, 2017.
“I was sitting behind the driver when we were T-boned on the passenger side,” Prater said. “I was unresponsive. They sent me to Vanderbilt University Medical Center, where I was in a coma for about 10 days. After that, I went to Select Specialty Hospital.”
Taylor and Prater were each transferred to Shepherd Center’s Brain Injury Rehabilitation Program. Taylor arrived first on September 21, followed by Prater soon after on October 18.
“When we got to Shepherd, it was like we were babies in full-grown human bodies,” Taylor said. “From walking, talking and swallowing, we had to relearn it all.”
Through hardships and challenges, they found comfort in each other. Taylor recalls meeting Prater for the first time.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” she said with a smile. “He was eating breakfast in the corner of the room where we would eat and do therapy. I introduced myself to him, and after that, we would talk every day.”
Prater added, “Talking to Taylor every day after realizing we had a lot of the same issues was so comforting. It also helps that we can always make a joke out of anything.”
They continued to support each other during outpatient therapy at Shepherd Pathways.
“When we got to Pathways, I wanted to be able to do whatever Prater did!” Taylor said. “When I saw him on a walker or cane, it motivated me to do the same thing.”
After completing therapy, they both returned home. Throughout the next three years, Prater and Taylor managed to stay in touch long-distance, confiding in each other about their good and bad days post-brain injury.
“By November 2020, we were messaging and FaceTiming each other every day,” Taylor said.
Prater exclaimed, “After about four months of FaceTiming, I was so sick of it! I decided to drive four hours to Alabama and finally see her in person. We’ve not been apart since.”
The young couple now lives together in Carbon Hill, Alabama. They have endured a lot during the past several years and are focusing on what they are grateful for. Prater proposed to Taylor on September 20, 2021, and of course, she said yes. They welcomed their son, Hudson Blaine Christiansen, to the world on January 20, 2022, whose original due date just so happened to be Valentine’s Day.
“Taylor is literally an angel,” Prater said. “I don’t know what else you can say. There is a fighter inside of her – I’ve seen it every day since we met at the hospital. She never gives up.”
They are also grateful for the rehabilitation they received at Shepherd.
“We really appreciate Shepherd Center more than you know,” Taylor said. “From the support system for people with brain injuries to the wonderful staff, if it wasn’t for Shepherd, we wouldn’t be the happiest we could be with the newest addition of our beautiful son to the family.”
Written by Damjana Alverson
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 neuromuscular 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.