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Sports Help Woman Reclaim her Life Following Transverse Myelitis and a Spinal Cord Injury

Sandy Hanebrink, 48, of Anderson, S.C., was 22 when she was first diagnosed with transverse myelitis, a neurological condition that, in her case, led to an incomplete C-7 spinal cord injury and paralysis.

Sports helped Sandy reclaim her life. “I’ve always played sports,” she said. “After the diagnosis, they were what helped me start feeling like myself again.”

In 1990, she won a gold medal with Team USA Wheelchair Basketball at the Pan American Games in Venezuela. In 1991, Sandy won the U.S. Open Quad-A Wheelchair Tennis Championship.

In 1992, a flare-up of her transverse myelitis sent her to Shepherd Center for the first time. “They helped tremendously,” Sandy said “As I got better, it was sports therapy that really got me going again.”

Over the next few years, she played for Shepherd Center’s quad rugby team, won a U.S. team silver medal at the 1994 International Paralympics’ World Swimming Championships in Malta and earned bronze at the 1996 Paralympic Games in Atlanta.

Yet athletic endeavors weren’t Sandy’s only pursuits. In 1997, she earned an occupational therapy degree from the Medical University of South Carolina. Sandy was the first person who uses a wheelchair accepted to the program.

“I was an eye-opener for them,” she said. “Everybody kept telling me, ‘You can’t be an OT. You’re in a wheelchair!’”

Today, Sandy is executive director of Touch The Future, a nonprofit based in South Carolina and Georgia. The organization advocates and provides technological services for veterans, seniors and individuals with disabilities. Her expertise has earned her a committee seat on a United Nations Global Initiative (G3ict) that focuses on making mobile technology universally accessible.

As for sports? “Well, lately work has encompassed more of my life,” Sandy said. “But work now includes a new Paralympic Sports Club at Touch The Future!” 

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.