Atlanta, GA,
09:00 AM

Student and ROTC Scholar Finishes Degree and Fights to Change Laws Following Accident

Ignacio Montoya, 24, of Duluth, Ga., had twin motivations for becoming a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot -- to fly something very fast and to give back to the country that welcomed him as a 7-year-old Cuban immigrant.

By December 2012, Ignacio’s goal stood within reach. He was completing his business studies at Georgia State University and finishing his time in the U.S. Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps at Georgia Tech. Ignacio had already earned a rated pilot slot and was three short months away from his commissioning.

Then on Dec. 4, 2012, Ignacio’s life nearly ended.

He was in uniform, riding his motorcycle home from an ROTC change-of-command ceremony at Georgia Tech, when he was struck by a minivan. For 15 minutes, Ignacio remained pulseless, in cardiopulmonary arrest. Chest compressions and several rounds of epinephrine to the heart resuscitated him, but Ignacio sustained a T-4 to -5 complete spinal cord injury, a traumatic brain injury and an injury that severed the nerves connecting his right arm to his spinal cord.

Ignacio spent several months at Shepherd Center in early 2013 and now returns when possible for outpatient physical therapy and to use the hospital's ProMotion Fitness Center. When he was discharged from Shepherd Center, Ignacio immediately maneuvered his way, by wheelchair, to Georgia State’s campus, about six miles away.

“It was important to me to get back on track right away,” he says. Today, Ignacio has earned his bachelor’s degree, lives on his own and is considering graduate school. He’s also fighting to change laws that prevent him from receiving medical benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

“I was going through the same program as cadets at the Air Force Academy,” Ignacio says. “If I had been at the Academy, I would be eligible for benefits. However, cadets training in the exact same programs at other schools, like me, aren’t eligible for the same benefits.”

For now, he’s fundraising for his medical expenses and keeping long-term goals in sight. “If I was dead for 15 minutes and got a second shot at life, I’m surely not going to spend it being complacent,” he says.

Written 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.