Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Shepherd Center Rebuilding Lives

Tuesday night at the Loew's Vanderbilt in Nashville was an alumni reception for Shepherd Center, a catastrophic care hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, which is consistently name in U.S. News America's Best Hospitals. Shepherd Center serves patients from all over the United States due to its reputation of excellent care. Shepherd Center specializes in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injuries, acquired brain injuries, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain and other neurological conditions. One of the recognizable smiling faces in the crowd was Amy Hawkins, the tornado victim who saved her two sons lives by laying on top of them during the storm. Hawkins story really touched a lot of people through local media, but her story became national news when Extreme Home Makeover rebuilt their home.

My family became familiar with and indebted to this instituation starting May 1, 2008. My brother-in-law, Ken Gilfillan, fell during a routine roof leak inspection on March 14. He fell 25 feet and landed on his head causing a traumatic brain injury and many other spinal and bone fractures. After having expert care at Vanderbilt Medical Center's Trauma Unit, he was cared for at Stallworth Rehabilitation at Vanderbilt and re-entered Vanderbilt Medical Center for surgery on his spine. We were thrilled when our case manager referred us to Debbie, the Shepherd Center patient liasion. Within days of Ken's neck surgery, we were accepted to Shepherd.

On May 1, I sent Ken flying off in a small medical air ambulance to Atlanta where my husband and his parents were awaiting his arrival at Shepherd. Five long months of incredible treatment and days and days of miracles occurred at the facility as Ken worked his way back to the daily functions of life. Watching someone you love re-learn how to perform involuntary functions such as swallowing, chewing, and drinking can be exhausting. It is also an inspiration to see therapists, nurses, and doctors all working together to help your family member regain their life. The extreme effort that goes in to each patient is powerful.

So, back to the reception. It wasn't anything most of us would picture as an alumni reunion. There were no cheerleaders, college sweatshirts, or football game talk. Most of the room was filled with former patients and their families. Some patients were in wheelchairs, some on crutches, some using canes and miraculously walking across the room to shake their doctor's hand. That would be Ken. For those of on two legs, it was an obstacle course and it was one we were thrilled to navigate.

All of the injuries were different and all the recoveries were at different levels. The one common theme of all these people was the joy of life that showed on their faces. They knew this institution had brought them back to life and they were there to say thank you. The doctors were emotionally overwhelmed as patients reached out to touch them, hugged them and loved them. Someone who had not been to Shepherd Center might be shocked walking in and seeing all of the physical disability. But it wouldn't take long for anyone to see the blessings and miracles that have taken place. Read about some of these miracles on their website patient stories page: .

Much of the success of Shepherd's program has been made possible by the hundreds of individuals, families and corporations that have helped support their mission over the years. In fact, alumni are very generous and anxious to give back to Shepherd. In fact, we benefited from this generosity ourselves. When Ken's insurance ran out for his rehabilitation, Shepherd stepped in and provided Ken a scholarship so he could physically be ready to return home. If you'd like to support this institution, check out their website at and see how you can help.

1 comment:

  1. Kelly, thanks for this lovely article about the patients and former patients (and staff) at Shepherd Center. For lots of new videos of former patients, see
    Kindest regards, Scott H. Sikes, Shepherd Center