Shepherd Center Caregiver Feature: Christine Trotman, mom of Eliana Trotman
Through the exhaustion and challenges of dealing with her daughter’s neuromyelitis optica diagnosis, she learned to choose hope every day.
Whenever Christine Trotman felt herself losing hope, whenever she worried her daughter could see how scared she was, whenever she needed to clear her mind — that’s when Christine slipped away for some solitude on Shepherd Center’s indoor track.
“That track is stained with my tears,” she says, “but it brought me so much relief. I would just walk it out. I would pray for my daughter there. And I would pray for others I’d met at Shepherd Center.
“Because you quickly realize that your story is connected with others. That we’re all in this together. The whole experience changed me. It gave me more empathy and an overwhelming sense of gratitude.”
Empathy and gratitude were not the emotions Christine cycled through in late December 2020. That was when her daughter Eliana, now 23, first started experiencing symptoms of neuromyelitis optica (NMO), a condition that presents similarly to multiple sclerosis as it attacks the body’s nervous system. In just two weeks, Eliana went from having a suspected stomach virus to nonstop vomiting, loss of all sensation, an inability to control her bowels and paralysis from the neck down. It took two urgent care visits and three emergency room visits to get a correct diagnosis.
On January 8, Eliana’s doctors at Atlanta’s Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital recommended a transfer to Shepherd Center. Upon her arrival, clinical staff from the Andrew C. Carlos Multiple Sclerosis Institute had already helped develop a treatment plan and a daily schedule for her. Christine’s transition to Shepherd Center was tougher.
“Everyone was great, but I had to mentally catch up,” she explains. “I hadn’t even come to terms with the diagnosis yet. Shepherd Center had a great psychologist, but I wasn’t ready to talk yet. I barely knew where I was.”
Christine says her mind finally accepted reality when she had to call her daughter’s dream job — a health technology company where Eliana was soon to begin work — and tell them Eliana couldn’t come.
“I broke down doing that,” Christine says. “But I decided I was going to do everything possible to help my daughter come back.”
Being hands-on in her daughter’s daily routine helped Christine mentally. Another boost came with Christine’s decision to continue working remotely from a makeshift “office” in Eliana’s room at Shepherd Center.
“I know not everybody would feel this way, but work was a tremendously positive distraction for me,” she says.
Mother and daughter also committed to daily pick-me-ups for their mental health. For Christine, it was a French press coffee. For Eliana, a rejuvenating shower — achieved each time with Christine’s help.
“I have the most awesome respect for the nurses and techs in this field, especially seeing them up close and all the complications the pandemic brought. They truly are heroes. They taught me what I needed to take care of my daughter. They prepared me for all that life could bring,” Christine says.
While only Christine could be with Eliana at Shepherd Center due to COVID-19 restrictions, the duo had a large circle of support outside. That includes Eliana’s dad, Floyd, and her siblings — Micah, 36, Imani, 27, and Eliana’s twin brother Ezra — as well as extended family, neighbors and friends.
All have much to rejoice in now. Eliana has recovered far more rapidly than anticipated. With NMO, there are always concerns about relapses. But at the moment, she’s walking with crutches and working on her driving. Her family is still proceeding with house modifications to make life easier at home and to be prepared in case Eliana’s condition ever regresses.
For now, there is optimism. Eliana works out at Shepherd Center’s ProMotion Fitness Center and goes on art and horticultural outings through the hospital’s recreational therapy program. She’s also writing a children’s book about her journey.
Oh, and that job Christine had to turn down on Eliana’s behalf? The company has been so impressed with Eliana’s resilience that they’ve told her whenever she’s ready, she’ll have a job waiting for her.
“It’s all about hope,” her mom says. “You have to choose hope. Every day. Shepherd Center is great at training you to do that. We’ll never lose that.”
By Phillip Jordan
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.