Shepherd Center Touches Life of One Woman Twice
Father and husband of Megan Parks underwent rehabilitation at Shepherd Center for separate accidents.
Megan Parks hasn’t been to Shepherd Center in two decades, and she doesn’t even remember her visits, yet she’s twice as thankful as most people who have had family members in the Atlanta not-for-profit hospital for people with spinal cord and brain injuries.
Megan’s father, Delvin Hargis, was paralyzed from the waist down from a spinal cord injury he sustained in a 1992 motorcycle accident, and her husband, Charles Parks, sustained a similar injury in a 2002 all-terrain-vehicle wreck.
Both men underwent rehabilitation at Shepherd Center and returned to their homes in Dover, Tenn.
More significantly, the two main men in Megan’s life rebounded with vim and vigor. Delvin returned to teaching and active family vacations, and Charles started a business the year after his accident and he’s now in law school.
“You hear of people who go through the same sort of accidents, and they don’t come out on the other end as well. They don’t necessarily get the quality of help that Shepherd Center gives,” Megan says. “I’m so fortunate that Charles and my dad were there.”
Charles, 29, and Megan, 27, were friends, but not dating, in July 2002 when he had his ATV accident in Dover, roughly 67 miles northwest of Nashville.
“I hit a tree on an ATV at about 50 miles per hour, broke about 19 vertebrae and injured my spinal cord at T-11,” Charles says. “My back basically broke and shifted. It didn’t sever the spinal cord, but stretched it.”
After surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Charles was transferred to Shepherd Center.
He was not a happy young man at the time.
“At the age of 18, I hated Shepherd Center [initially] because I hated being there. You go from being able to dunk a basketball to sitting in a wheelchair,” Charles recalls. “But if it wasn’t for that care, I probably never would’ve gotten up out of my chair. I never really felt like a patient there.”
Megan was part of a group that sought to lift Charles’ spirits when he returned to Dover after his October 2002 discharge.
“We’ve known each other since elementary school,” she explains. “We kind of ran in the same crowd. He played basketball in high school, and I was a cheerleader. I never went to Shepherd when he was there.
“We had this big welcome home party, and we’d all go do stuff to get him out and about to help him keep his life normal.”
Charles did not waste time jumping back into a busy life.
In 2003, he founded Parks & Associates, an insurance agency. The company thrives still, and Charles is attending evening classes at the Nashville School of Law to eventually better serve clients.
With the physical and occupational therapies and other treatments at Shepherd Center, Charles learned to walk with forearm crutches and rediscovered the aggressive spirit that made him a multi-sport athlete in high school.
He says he decided, “I was going to play the cards I was dealt, never give up. At first, I was bitter; you’re almost mad at yourself.”
Megan didn’t see that process in her father, or she doesn’t remember it.
Delvin’s motorcycle accident happened the summer before she began kindergarten, and her memories are scattered.
“It was foggy. He missed a stop sign and went up an embankment,” she says. “Afterward, he was in a wheelchair, but it never stopped him from doing anything. We went to the beach every year and Disney World. He was also a fourth grade schoolteacher.
“My parents divorced when I was two, but I remember my mom going to Shepherd Center, and there are pictures of me at Shepherd,” Megan adds.
Sadly, Delvin passed away in 2009 from a heart attack.
Megan and Charles dated on and off for before marrying in 2012. Together, they’re raising Megan’s 4-year-old son, Hargis, and expecting another child in July.
Charles continues to push the pace. You’re not likely to see him feeling sorry for himself.
“He really doesn’t feel sorry for himself, and it’s very uplifting because there are a lot of people who don’t have excuses but make excuses,” says Megan, a third-grade teacher. “He’s always had a very head-strong personality.
“There were people who expected him to come home and live off disability for the rest of his life. He was like, ‘I’m going to rise above.’ I need to take after him.”
The Parks have discussed visiting Shepherd Center with payback in mind.
“Charles has kind of struggled with it, but he’s an inspiration to people,” Megan says. “We have been thinking about making a trip to talk to people, to give back because they’ve given us so much. It really is a fabulous place.
“At Shepherd, they remind you that your life is going to be different, and this is how we’re going to help you with that,” she adds. “It’s not just to have surgery and go out in the real world: ‘Good luck!’ It’s so much more in depth than that.”
By Matt Winkeljohn
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.