Meeting Eli

Every once in awhile the Peer Support folks at The Shepherd Center will dial us up. I guess they see similarities in the lives, interests, personalities among past and current patients. Since we're local, and four years in, they'll ask us to come meet with whomever.

About a month ago, Spencer and I met with an expecting Mama from South Carolina who's husband was diagnosed with a spinal cord injury and a brain injury after drowning on a trip to Mexico. I never know what I have to offer to any of these people we're asked to meet with, but after meeting with Charissa that day, I realized that for her, bringing Spencer was the best thing I could have done. Sure she asked me some questions about life after a SCI. But she couldn't take her eyes off the baby and couldn't stop smiling at her. Spencer, of course, was her usual social, smiley self right on cue. Spencer went to her and let her snuggle her. Baby therapy. It works well. Spencer tends to fill in the blanks when Mama falls short.

This week, we met with Eli Culp. Eli was injured on the Amtrak crash headed from Philly to New York, his nightly commute home. Eli is a well-known chef, and it seems, is very talented.  Jimmy and Eli talked cooking school, kids and their fascination with their wheelchairs, nurses, vehicles of choice, life after the injury, etc. All while Spencer crawled all over the therapy mats with extreme excitement. I remember being in that 5th floor therapy gym in 2011 with Jimmy, sometimes seeing newly-injured Dads with their babies do the same. 

As Eli and Jimmy talked, it was kind of a full circle moment. Having Spencer in the therapy gym her Dadda spent many of hours in, really learning how to live again.    

Eli seemed to be dealing with his injury rather well. As well as one could. The fact he was willing to meet with us indicates a certain level of acceptance, I think, that many in Eli and Jimmy's situation have a rather hard time with.

He asked Jimmy if he's accepted the randomness of the accident and the injury, and how long it took him to do so. Eli's accident, while so different than Jimmy's obviously, was very random, freakish, and one-in-a-millionesque like ours. It's feels that way, at least. 

I loved that Eli asked that question and never really heard Jimmy's take on it.  As a spectator, very interesting to hear them talk and comparing the then and now perspectives.

But once again, Spencer's constant motor-boating into my arms or the air with spittle flying about added a certain lighthearted realization that we have our kids to help us get through this injury. Something I think Charissa will learn as well.

The crawling on the therapy mats, the fascination with the wheelchair, the vent tubing, the injury-related items that Spencer has now made her toys. It will be a part of her childhood, and her fascination with it all makes the injury feel normal, even special.

The meetings with these special people are so meaningful for us. Probably more than they know. It helps us to realize how far we've come and allows us to become cheerleaders for these folks who are following in our footsteps, so to speak. 

For Eli: figuring out life after the injury and Shepherd, figuring out technology, learning acceptance, being a Dad in a wheelchair.

For Charissa: the exhausted caretaker not willing to venture too far from The Shepherd Center just yet, learning to take small moments for herself, gearing up to be a mom while still figuring out the injury.

We're rooting for you guys! We're so glad to have met you. We're here to tell you it can be done and there is life after the injury.

Just keep going.


  1. Jamie, I know that you think bringing Spencer was the best thing you had to offer Charissa, but you are wrong.
    Bringing Spencer was just one of the many (many) things you have to offer.
    You, Jimmy and Spencer offer hope, you offer purpose, you show that life does indeed go on, and that many great things are possible.
    Although I have never had the privilege to meet you in person, I can imagine what an uplifting breath of fresh air you must be to people.
    The path is not the one you chose to walk, but you are walking it with grace and tenacity and humor.
    And a cute baby of course :-) It always helps to walk with a cute baby.

    1. Fiona, your words are so kind and meaningful. Thank you!


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