Teaching Children to Cope with Life-Changing Injury
To 12-year-old Sylvia Meredith, Shepherd Center was the perfect location for a superhero to do battle with his arch nemesis.
Sylvia, and her six siblings, spent weeks in early 2012 living in Shepherd Center’s Woodruff Family Residence Center while their dad, Tim Meredith, 42, of Bristol, Tenn., underwent rehabilitation for a stroke.
In a story Sylvia wrote during her dad’s rehabilitation, Batman became a patient at Shepherd Center after a car crash caused by The Joker. The Joker got so frustrated with Shepherd Center for doing such a thorough job in treating Batman that he set out to destroy the hospital.
The Joker foiled his own plan, though, when he fell off the roof of the hospital. The Joker then underwent rehabilitation at Shepherd Center before going to prison.
“I thought this would be a good way to say thank you to Shepherd Center and make them laugh,” says Sylvia, who sent her story to hospital co- founder Alana Shepherd. “I figured out a problem and a good solution to the problem. I tried to make Shepherd Center the hero.”
Former patient Tim Meredith and his family visit with neuropsychologist Catherine Rogers, far right, outside Shepherd Center’s Woodruff Family Residence Center, where the family stayed while he underwent rehabilitation for a brain injury.
The Meredith children, ranging in age from 8 months to 12, witnessed the heroics of the Shepherd Center staff on a daily basis. Alison Meredith, Tim’s wife, homeschools the children, and after consulting with Tim and counselors at Shepherd Center, she decided to relocate her family to Atlanta for the duration of Tim’s rehabilitation.
Catherine Rogers, Ph.D., a clinical neuropsychologist at Shepherd Center, says in this case, having the whole family participate in the daily therapeutic process was beneficial not only to Tim, but also to Alison and the children.
“One thing we recommend for families is to keep as much structure and routine for children as possible,” Dr. Rogers says. “For the Merediths, with the kids being homeschooled, it would have been more disruptive for them to be apart from their parents when they were so used to being together during the days and evenings.
“It’s amazing, given that they have seven children, how orderly things were and how well they did being on the Acquired Brain Injury Unit.”
Alison knew the stay in Atlanta would be a disruptive time for the children. The question was, “Would it be more helpful, in the long run, to have the children with their dad?”
“I asked three of my closest friends, ‘Am I nuts?’ before bringing the kids,” she says. “Everyone agreed with what I was thinking. So the kids were packed up and brought down to Atlanta. The kids learned in a real way that family matters, and you drop everything and do what it takes to love Dad.”
Shortly after experiencing strokes caused by an iliac aneurysm, Tim’s chances of survival were poor, according to his doctors in Tennessee. But the Meredith family never lost hope, instead choosing to pray and then to focus on things they could control.
Tim, who was discharged from Shepherd Center in late March, says he is proud of his children and thankful for how the hospital staff helped them understand and cope with his injury.
“For Sylvia and Peter (age 10), this will be a defining part of their childhood,” Tim says. “It’s all been hard on them, but I think it would have been harder for them to stay at home. They got to come together around their dad and saw me take this journey. I think it strengthened them.”
Dr. Rogers says that being at Shepherd Center was not only good for the kids, but helped in Tim’s recovery. “It made a big difference with his mood having the contact with his family,” she notes. “It helped emotionally, but also physically, because he was so motivated to do the work involved with therapy, in large part, because he was surrounded by his family.”
Dr. Rogers adds that in some other cases, having children at the hospital every day might not be good for the patient.
“It varies, depending largely on the patient’s condition,” she says. “In this case, it was really good because Tim felt like the same person to them. It’s harder for kids when the patient is very disinhibited or acting out verbally or physically. He didn’t have that kind of personality change sometimes caused by a brain injury.” 2.
The Merediths are back home now.
Tim wants his children to understand that he may never be 100 percent recovered from his stroke. It’s a life lesson that children have to learn at some point. But he also wants them to know how grateful he is for his many blessings – mainly, his seven children and a loving, committed wife.
Shepherd Center Reaches Out to Young Children of Patients
Uniquely gifted through life experiences, Gale Eckstein coordinates Shepherd Center’s Family Support Services so families have fewer things to worry about while their loved one is undergoing rehabilitation.
For example, she’s been asked: “Where is a nearby walk-in clinic where I can take my sick kid?” and “Where is a fun and educational place for the children to spend a Saturday?”
Think of it as a concierge service for family members needing to avoid the potential difficulties of making yet another decision.
“Having raised three children and having worked in a school guidance office, taught in school, and worked in a church with youth, I think I bring a perspective to this job that helps when considering children,” Eckstein explains.
“Children need routine and consistency as much as possible, and that’s why our on-campus and nearby housing options are so important. We focus more on the adults, but that trickles down well to the children.”
Eckstein’s previous jobs aren’t the only thing that prepared her for this position. Her husband was a patient at Shepherd Center more than two years ago.
“I was so overwhelmed, I could barely function,” she recalls. “But I was treated like family here, and that made all the difference. Now, anything I can do to answer questions, or even take one thing off of a family member’s plate, it’s a relief to them.”
It is the entire environment at Shepherd Center, as well as staff members’ attitudes, that really make a difference in putting family members at ease.
“A mother of two young children recently told me that Shepherd Center was ‘kid-friendly,’” Eckstein says. “She explained that every single person who wears a Shepherd ID badge has shown patience with her children and made an effort to interact with them. It may be just striking up a conversation with them, or helping them get their drink in the cafeteria, or watching out for their safety, but everyone has shown that they care.
“I think our obvious and consistently positive attitude about children and families means more than any one specific thing that we do to support them,” Eckstein adds.
– Bill Sanders
An Opportunity for Volunteers
Shepherd Center’s Peach Corps volunteer group is composed of individuals and families who organize and participate in two to three activities annually for Shepherd patients. Activities include an ice cream social in the spring and a cookout in early fall.
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 900 inpatients, 575 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year.