Atlanta, GA,
09:00 AM

Pastor Recalls His Recovery from a Spinal Cord Injury and Return to Ministry

Ten years after his spinal cord injury, the Rev. James Choomack, 68, serves as pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, Ga.

Jim Choomack, 68, of Greensboro, Ga., was three weeks into his three-month stay at Shepherd Center when his youngest daughter, Ann, told him that she’d gotten engaged on the very day that he had sustained a C-5 spinal cord injury in a fall at his house.

“Very innocently, she asked me if I would be able to walk in a year and two months -- their wedding date,” Jim recalls. “Without hesitation, I said, ‘Yes.’ I had no idea at the time what the doctors thought, but I couldn’t say anything else.”

After operations to install titanium rods and screws in his spine, Jim began his rehabilitation at Shepherd Center, eventually graduating to a bodyweight-supported treadmill. “It was not easy,” he says. “It took every ounce of gumption I had. But they taught me how to walk again.”

As a presbytery executive in the Presbyterian Church USA, Jim had friends all over the world. And at times, it seemed like every one of them came to visit Jim and his wife Carole at Shepherd Center. “The staff worried it would wear me out, but those visits energized me. It’s that love of, and from, people that really got me through this. They made me promise to close my door if I got tired. I don’t think I ever closed that door!”

In June 2005, Jim walked his daughter down the aisle during her  wedding. “It was outdoors, too! She didn’t make it easy!” he says with a laugh. “That was a special moment for both of us.”

Today, Jim works with the Boys & Girls Club, serves as a tutor, and is a member of the Rotary Club of Greene and Putnam counties. He is now the pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Greensboro. He stands when he preaches, and he can drive to visit his own friends and church members in the hospital.

“It’s a small church, but probably one of the most genuinely loving churches I’ve ever served,” he says. “The day that I start feeling ineffective is the day I’ll retire. But I don’t think that’s coming anytime soon!”

By Phillip Jordan

About Shepherd Center

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.