Atlanta, GA,
09:30 AM

Thanksgiving Brings Patient’s Close-Knit Family Together to Celebrate Progress in Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation

Sharon McMorran and her siblings count Shepherd Center among their blessings this holiday.

In early November, on the second day she walked with the assistance of a walker, Sharon McMorran, 60, of Wexford, Penn., traveled about 150 feet before returning to a bench in one of Shepherd Center’s rehabilitation gyms.

“It’s amazing that she’s walking already and so much stronger when she sits down,” said her sister, Nancy McMorran, 58, also of Wexford.

“Yeah,” joked brother Jim McMorran, 66, of Warren, Ohio. “Her flopping days are over.”

Jim leaned over and gently slapped hands with Sharon. Niece Jennifer Osterrieder, 40, of Gibsonia, Penn., handed her a cup of water.

Sharon sustained a C-5 incomplete spinal cord injury in a fall this past October on Little Tybee Island, Ga. Nancy and another sister, Joyce McMorran Smith, 52 of Concord, N.C., were with her at the time, and members of the family have been at her side every day since.

On Thanksgiving, that number will rise to 10 as the McMorran clan gathers first at a local restaurant and later in the hospital’s family lounge for what promises to be a rousing celebration. “We’ve also invited families of patients who don’t have anywhere else to go,” Nancy said. “It’s going to be quite a gathering.”

“It’s going to be one of the largest family groups we’ve ever had here,” said Tammy Arnold, Sharon’s case manager in the Shepherd Center Spinal Cord Injury Unit.

There are five McMorran siblings in all – including sister Diane Barker, 68, who also lives in Wexford and has been to Shepherd Center with husband Grant to support Sharon – and they are very close, Joyce said. Diane, Sharon and Nancy often drive an hour to have dinner with Jim and his wife Karen midway between Wexford – a Pittsburgh suburb – and Jim’s home. In the summer, the entire family gathers in West Virginia for what they call McMorran Outrageous Outings – or MOO.

“Thanksgiving might be a MOO extraordinare,” Sharon said. “It’s amazing they are willing to travel this far and spend time with me.”

When Sharon was injured, her family hoped her rehabilitation would take place near Pittsburgh. But therapists and nurses at Memorial University Medical Center, the Savannah, Ga., hospital where she was initially treated, urged her to come to Shepherd Center.

Now, the McMorrans are thankful she did.

“I can’t even begin to describe this place,” Sharon said. “The equipment, the atmosphere, the trained staff, the way they go about your rehab. . . . I’ve had visits from kind, caring people and found out later it was a vice president or someone on the board of directors. There’s a culture of caring here, and it feels like one big family. I feel God led me to this place.”

Nancy echoed: “It’s an amazing place. The minute we walked in the door, it felt like family – from the people who mop the floor to (co-founder) Mrs. (Alana) Shepherd. And everyone is so supportive. We were talking to people whose daughter is here, and they said, ‘We’re cheering for Sharon like she’s our own daughter.’”

“We love it,” Joyce added. “We want to live and work and volunteer here.”

The sisters have contributed to the atmosphere by introducing themselves to everyone and celebrating at any opportunity, whether it’s a holiday or the graduation of a patient from the hospital’s inpatient program.

“We call them the Golden Girls,” Tammy said of the sisters. “They are hilarious. We had a big party at Halloween, and Nancy dressed up as a witch, Joyce was Spider Lady and Sharon wore a luau outfit. They jumped right in.”

Asked if she enjoyed it, Sharon said, “Oh, it was such a blast!”

“That’s not something you expect to hear from someone with a spinal cord injury,” Nancy said.

“We’re not wallowers,” Joyce explained. “We’re not interested in pity. We didn’t want this to happen to Sharon, but she said, ‘This happened, and we’re going to do what we can to get better and figure out what’s next.’”

Sharon attributes her rapid progress in rehabilitation to her therapists, who encourage her to try things that initially seem impossible.

“I think, ‘No way,’ and two days later, what seemed impossible is a snap,” Sharon said. “The therapists truly care about the patients, and the patients root each other on. It’s amazing.”

Niece Jennifer commented that during her visit, “I’ve been hearing the word ‘amazing’ a lot,” and Jim pointed out that Sharon has been smiling a lot.

“I’m grateful,” Sharon said. “I’ve got a lot to be thankful for.”

Written by John Christensen
Photos by Louie Favorite

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.