Atlanta, GA,
09:30 AM

Spinal Cord Injury Second Anniversary Prompts Reflection and Hope for the Future

Former patient cites Shepherd Center for teaching him to be independent.

By Ken Johnson, LPC
Former Spinal Cord Injury Patient, Shepherd Center

It’s been two years since a spinal cord stroke caused by a dissected aorta left me paralyzed from the waist down. Everything was gone that my wife, Cathy, and I had ever hoped for or dreamed of doing now that we were empty nesters.

In its place were confusion, anger and sadness. I went through a desert period of time where I just existed. Cathy and I went through the motions of appearing stronger than we really felt. I tried to live my life as normal as possible – if I could ever accept living in a wheelchair as normal.

These two years since my spinal cord injury have been mixed with hope and dispair, joy at what I am still able to accomplish and sadness at what I can no longer do.

Through it all was a determination that my wife and I had to stay with it, and together, we would get to the other side. Neither of us was willing to give up on the other. When one tired, the other carried the weight of two.

They say, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Well, I almost died from my heart condition, but I didn’t. Instead, I was left paralyzed and in a wheelchair. Can anything good come from being disabled? Yes! You just need to know where to look. Shepherd Center gave me back my life. They taught me to always push forward; that includes my wheelchair. They taught me to never let someone do something for me that I can do myself. And if I don’t think I can do it, try it anyway.

I also learned it’s OK to ask for help.I have learned a lot about living as a person with a disability, about persevering, about what and who really matters in this world. Two years are just the beginning. I still have a long way to go figuring out this whole wheelchair life, but with my friends at Shepherd Center and beyond, my family and my faith, life is not that bad at all. I have so much to be thankful for. My wheelchair gives me life.

Like my doctors say, I could be dead, but I’m not! In fact, I feel more alive today than I ever have. I’m looking forward to many more years to come!

More information about spinal cord injury rehabilitation at Shepherd Center is available here.

KEN JOHNSON is a licensed professional counselor with 20 years experience in private practice. He is the administrative director and founder of East-West Psychotherapy Associates in Marietta, Ga. Ken has a master’s degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Ken experienced a medical crisis in September 2013 that left him with paraplegia. Subsequently, Ken spent four weeks in rehabilitation at Shepherd Center. The experience at Shepherd Center helped prepare him for life in a wheelchair and set the stage for a shift in his private practice to include counseling individuals and family members facing medical traumas and disability issues. Ken has been married for 32 years to Cathy. They have two grown children and live in Marietta, Ga. Ken can be contacted at 770-419-5657 or at

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 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 743 inpatients, 277 day program patients and more than 7,161 outpatients each year in more than 46,000 visits.