Atlanta, GA,
13:21 PM

The Power of Positivity

When college student Aiden Gilligan sustained a spinal cord injury in an incident involving an impaired driver, he used his determination and positivity to push through. Now, he helps others in similar situations by telling his story.

In March 2022, Aiden Gilligan was a typical 18-year-old freshman at Western Kentucky University. He was studying music and spent his days practicing various instruments, studying for tests, and enjoying time with his friends.

One evening, as Aiden was studying for a midterm, he noticed his roommate stumbling to the door after drinking, preparing to return to his fraternity house. Aiden immediately offered to drive his roommate.

“Get in, and if you think I’m too bad to drive, then you can drive,” said his roommate.

Aiden reluctantly agreed. His roommate drove erratically through town, reaching speeds over 100 miles an hour before he hit a curb, sending the car flying until it landed against a pole. Aiden immediately knew that he could not feel or move anything below his neck, and when the car caught fire, he could only feel the heat on his face.

A bystander rushed over to the vehicle.

“You have to pull me out,” Aiden instructed.

Just as the bystander pulled Aiden from the vehicle and got him safely across the street, the car was engulfed in flames.

Aiden was life-flighted to TriStar Skyline Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee, where he had an MRI and emergency surgery.

“The life flight nurse found my mom,” Aiden says. “And she told her, ‘This isn’t going to make sense right now, but you have to get to Shepherd Center.’ Then everyone started telling us the same thing.”

Aiden was admitted to Shepherd Center’s Adolescent Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program and spent the next three months working toward his therapy goals among his peers.

“Everyone was so welcoming,” Aiden explains. “It’s just amazing how at Shepherd Center, people are at their absolute worst, but the atmosphere and the staff there make it the happiest place on earth. That’s what always stuck with me. I was in a bad position, but it never felt like that. The atmosphere at the gym just feels like you’re hanging out with your friends, and everyone is just getting work done. It never felt like therapy.”

Aiden’s positive mindset helped him progress, graduating from the inpatient program to Shepherd Center’s Outpatient Day Program. He moved from a power wheelchair to a manual wheelchair, and finally, during the last week in the outpatient program, he came to therapy using hand crutches.

Today, Aiden is using his experiences to help others in similar situations.

“I was a music major, and playing instruments was my life. Now, I feel like my calling is to help people and create awareness about spinal cord injuries. I’m in a unique situation since I started in a power wheelchair and can now walk, so I feel like I can give insights into each stage of recovery. I try to help people in as many ways as I can.”

Written by Lindsey Rieben

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.