00:00 AM

Shepherd Center Expands its Focus on the Neuroscience of Spinal Cord Injury with Gift to its Research Lab

ATLANTA – With a $1.2 million gift from friends and supporters of former Shepherd Center patient Billy Hulse of Atlanta, Shepherd Center is expanding its research aimed at learning more about the neurobiology of spinal cord injury in people who are undergoing rehabilitation.

Led by Keith Tansey, M.D., Ph.D., director of spinal cord injury (SCI) research, neuroscientists in the Shepherd Center Spinal Cord Injury Lab hope to find new ways to increase function and quality of life for people with SCI.

The lab – now called the Betty and Billy Hulse Spinal Cord Injury Lab in honor of Billy Hulse and his wife – will be dedicated in a ceremony at 11 a.m. Sept. 11 at Shepherd Center. Scheduled to speak at the event are the Hulses, Dr. Tansey and Atlanta philanthropist Tommy Holder, who helped spearhead the fundraising effort with his wife Beth and the Hulses. In just three months, they exceeded their fundraising goal of $1 million.

The funds will allow the Hulse Spinal Cord Injury Lab to hire additional researchers and buy new equipment that will help researchers secure additional grant funding. Dr. Tansey started the lab several years ago with a small grant that funded equipment needed to get research under way.

“This gift is going to allow us to expand the lab in a way that would not have been possible if we were just going grant by grant,” Dr. Tansey says. “We can hire people sooner, and we will collect pilot data faster, which in turn will help us secure additional grants and publish our work faster. This accelerates our scientific endeavor beyond where we would have been in a typical academic environment.”

After Billy Hulse, a successful Atlanta businessman, underwent rehabilitation at Shepherd Center in 2009 for a high, cervical-level SCI, the Hulses were grateful to the hospital for helping Billy come a long way in his recovery. They wanted to give back to the hospital, and after having met Dr. Tansey and learning of his research, they decided that it would become the focus of their fundraising efforts.

So they shared their idea with their good friends, the Holders, who, in turn, hosted a reception at their home for 120 of the Hulses’ friends and supporters. Dr. Tansey talked about Shepherd’s mission and his group’s research goals. Billy and Betty spoke about the care they received and how investments to expand the research lab could benefit future patients. The Holders also sent out hundreds of appeal letters. The response was enormous.

“There was a pent-up desire to show love and support for Billy and Betty, and this was the way that their friends could do that,” Beth Holder says. “We had donors from Thomasville, Ga., to Tokyo, who were eager to write large checks.”

Betty Hulse was overwhelmed by the response to their efforts. 

“The devotion of our friends is so far-reaching,” she says. “I’ve never really experienced anything like this. There was so much love and momentum to raise money in Billy’s name to help bring this lab to Shepherd.”

Now, the lab is housed in the newly renovated third floor of the Shepherd Building at Shepherd Center.

“We give some of the best clinical care there is, and now this lab will increase our contribution to advancing the scientific understanding of the human body’s neurophysiology after injury,” Dr. Tansey says. “It’s where we believe the future of spinal cord injury research is being defined.”

Billy Hulse is proud of what has already been achieved. “It’s a chance to give back to the people at Shepherd who provide such a tremendous service to those of us with catastrophic injuries,” he says.

For more information on SCI research at Shepherd Center, go to

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.