Tag Archives: paralyzed

What It’s Like To Take Your Mother To College With You

As a college freshman, Kate Strickland was struck by a car while riding her bike. The accident left her paralyzed from the chest down and unable to use her hands or wrists. Unable to find a caregiver to fit Kate’s needs, her mother, Jenie, stepped up to fulfill the role, living with Kate in her dorm and attending classes with her at the University of Texas at Austin as she resumed her studies. In honor of National Family Caregivers Month, Kate told us her story.

Kate Strickland HelpHOPELive

Kate, 21, attends college with her mother


When you searched for a caregiver, what were some of your criteria?


We were looking for a caregiver or a group of caregivers who could be with me 24/7. Ideally, the caregiver would have a CNA [Certified Nursing Assistant] certification and be near my age in order to go with me to classes on campus. We needed somebody who would be comfortable getting me ready in the mornings, which includes helping with showers, a bowel program and catheter bags.


How does your mother serve as a caregiver for you?


My mom has been my caregiver in everything that I have needed since my accident. She showers me, does the bowel program, dresses me, feeds me and brushes my teeth. She does everything for me. She also goes to my classes and takes notes for me. It’s been very helpful to have my mother fill this role. Without her, I wouldn’t be able to go to school.

Kate Strickland HelpHOPELive

Kate (center) and her mother (left)


Has caregiving changed the relationship between you and your mom?


I think it’s changed our roles more than our overall relationship. Instead of just being mother and daughter, we are now caregiver and dependent. We spend all day, every day, with each other. Before my injury, I was independent at college and I wasn’t even talking to my parents every single day.


Is it difficult to explain to other people why your mom is always with you?


For the most part, I think it is fairly obvious why my mother is with me. It’s difficult to hide that I have a disability since I am in a massive power wheelchair. However, I think having my mother with me all the time changes the experience of making new friends in college. A lot of my peers feel like parents intrude on their college independence, so it’s an adjustment for them to understand my situation.


Can it be stressful to rely on someone else to help you?


Of course it’s stressful to rely on someone else – before my injury, I was always a very independent person. But, the fact is, if I don’t rely on someone else to help me, I won’t be able to do things like attend school, do my homework or even eat, so I have become accustomed to my total dependence on others.

Kate Strickland HelpHOPELive

Kate learned to adjust and accept care after her injury


What one word would you choose to describe caregiving?


The one word I’d use to describe caregiving is complicated.


Do you have any advice for another student who is learning to accept care after injury?


This may sound harsh, but what it comes down to is this: you can either accept your injury and your limitations, even though they are obviously not ideal, and receive the help you need to move on with your life, or you can refuse reality and help to just sit around staying stagnant.

Kate Strickland HelpHOPELive

“Receive the help you need to move on with your life,” Kate advises.


Have you had to adjust to college life with a caregiver? Share your story with us on Facebook or on Twitter.

Learning To Adapt: How A Business Owner Supports His Wife After Injury

In honor of National Family Caregivers Month this November, we’re profiling individuals who play a key role in the care and happiness of their loved ones. In July of 2014, Kirby G. Smith was thrust into one of the most intense experiences of his life. Suria Nordin, then his fiancée, became paralyzed while vacationing with Kirby in Jamaica. By July of 2015, Kirby had founded SunKirb Ideas, a game-changing “smart home” installation and management company.

Kirby hopes to offer ease, efficiency and manageable overhead costs to families coping with a disability or injury. We picked Kirby’s brain to find out how smart home tech could revolutionize daily life for American families.

Kirby Smith and Suria Nordin HelpHOPELive injury spinal cord injury wheelchair SunKirb Ideas

Suria and Kirby in their neighborhood. Source: Wall Street Journal


After your wife’s injury, what modifications were needed to create a supportive home environment?


We had to modify multiple elements of our house, including our home entrances, the heights of our light switches, the bathroom configuration, our flooring and our emergency response options.


How did you begin to discover the benefits of smart home tech?


When Suria was injured, I wasn’t very motivated to seek out adaptive equipment because of the exorbitant prices for purchase and installation. As a result, I started to take a closer look at regular consumer products. It turned out that MANY of these products were already outfitted with adaptive technologies, but those features were not well-advertised.

Kirby Smith Suria Nordin HelpHOPELive home

Kirby found creative ways to make life easier for Suria. Source: Wall Street Journal

When it comes to adapting for disabilities, people tend to just purchase the tech without looking into the value. I realized that instead of asking families to look for expensive adaptive equipment, I could help them to adapt existing equipment for their needs. I realized this was really a gap in the market: services from a company that understands disability and aging directly.


What kind of cost-effective conversions did you discover?


The first four months after Suria was injured were challenging. We had no one to turn to to discuss life after injury when it came down to the nuts and bolts of home modification. In one instance, I searched for a piece of technology that would allow Suria to turn on the television with her voice. A vendor presented me a customized voice-activated device that would cost us $6,000. To me, that price was outrageous. Instead of making that purchase, I picked up a $400 Xbox console, which has built-in audio recognition that can completely control a television set, including sites such as Netflix and cable box or TiVo DVRs.

xbox

An Xbox can be used in place of a $6,000 modification.

The second piece of the puzzle was making physical adaptations without relying on installation services. Every adaptive tech business sold its product aggressively, but no one showed you how to adapt your home without paying a professional to do so. Different vendors handled each piece of the home, from the lights to the doors to the television, with huge service markups attached to each. The vendors pushed their own product and didn’t work on continuity. We would have had to find our own tech-savvy contractor to adapt the house on a physical level. Learning how to do that on my own gave me the experience I needed to help others do the same without paying exorbitant installation fees.


Why don’t businesses advertise adaptive uses for consumer products?


The average person doesn’t even think about these considerations. In Xbox’s case, the company wants to appeal to gamers primarily. Businesses don’t want to lose their core markets, so they tend to shy away from using language like ‘adaptable’ or ‘adaptive’ because they are so afraid of alienating their core consumers.

game marketing Battlefield

Afraid of alienating core consumers, most companies don’t advertise accessibility.


How did your professional background inform your business?


My tech background as a Senior VP of IT helped me to identify what was a good deal and what was an outrageous proposition. We had to design portions of our systems to accommodate persons with disabilities. I’ve been aware of that [need] throughout my career.


How can intelligent tech impact the lives of families coping with an injury?


Smart tech can provide cost savings while improving safety and comfort. A smart house can monitor energy usage and save you money while you’re away from home – for example, the system will adjust the temperature to save energy if it senses that you are away from your home and then, as it learns your schedule, it will bring the temperature back to comfort levels before you arrive. Our home tech learns Suria’s patterns and adapts to them. We have smart smoke detectors that pick up smoke and CO2, but the alarms can identify both the exact location of the issue AND the degree of emergency. If someone burns the toast and there is smoke in the kitchen, the device will inform us of the issue but will also note that it doesn’t pose an immediate threat to our safety. The sensors also detect motion and can alert us if we are away and there is movement in the house. They can also tell the thermostat we’re out, and lower energy levels to save power.

smart home

Smart tech can save users money and improve safety.


Can smart homes help caregivers, too?


As a caregiver, I use our home features as much as Suria does! Technology streamlines and simplifies everything. Caregivers can monitor their homes and their loved ones and keep in constant contact, especially in case of emergencies. When everything is connected, it becomes easier for EVERY member of the family to live a fulfilling life.


Are there benefits to using smart tech beyond physical disability support?


It’s nice to have equipment that assists you but isn’t stigmatizing. There is a ‘cool’ factor to a lot of this technology that supersedes the disabled label – in fact, my first SunKirb Ideas clients are not disabled. That’s what’s so powerful about connected home technology: it transcends traditional labels and limitations. I truly think we’re on the cusp of very affordable technology that can change lives, and I’m proud to be on the forefront of that.

smart house family

Smart tech can transcend the ‘disability’ label to appeal to everyone.


Why not expand your business to the general market?


After what I went through with Suria, serving families who are coping with disabilities is my passion and where my heart lies. I’m not speaking from theory when I address consumers – I’ve lived it, and that gives me a perspective I can share with others. By testing things with Suria, I was able to determine what would work for others with similar situations or even completely different concerns (blindness, for instance). I’m not in this to form a gigantic company – I am looking for fulfillment and the ability to provide a good service. I want to be able to walk away feeling like the money I made is supporting a worthy cause.


Like what you’re hearing? Share your thoughts on caregiving after injury, smart homes and disability-friendly technology with us on Twitter.

Meet Help Award Honoree Team Libby Judge

Each year at HelpHOPELive’s annual signature fundraising event, HelpHOPE-Live It Up!, we honor community heroes who prove why our mission matters with the Help, HOPE and Live awards. In 2015, we’re also giving out an Advocacy and Volunteer of the Year award.

This year, the Help award will go to Team Libby Judge for excellence in fundraising.

On March 15, 2014, Libby Judge, a West Chester, Pennsylvania mother and grandmother, was in a car accident that left her paralyzed from the chest down. After the injury, Libby’s family learned they would face medical and related expenses estimated to cost between $500,000 and $3 million throughout Libby’s lifetime. Libby and her family faced an immense burden emotionally, physically and financially. Fortunately, their community stepped up to meet that burden with unyielding love and powerful fundraising assistance.

Libby Judge family HelpHOPELive

Libby Judge (center) pre-injury with her family.

Friends and community members who had played tennis and golf with Libby volunteered to serve as team members of a fundraising campaign in her honor. Coordinating with HelpHOPELive, “Team Libby Judge” quickly drafted an appeal letter to the community at large to jumpstart fundraising efforts on her behalf, and managed to secure an initial donation within the first 24 hours — and the outpouring of support continued from there and hasn’t faltered.

Team Libby Judge

Team Libby Judge members Chuck Walsh and Laura and Joe Santoleri.

Team Libby Judge planned to hold the first major fundraising event in Libby’s honor at a favorite local pub, featuring food and drinks, a silent auction, multiple raffles and a live musical performance. Team members created an event flyer, auction item solicitation letter and online event registration page with support from HelpHOPELive.

Libby Judge bracelet HelpHOPELive

Team Libby Judge devoted themselves to supporting Libby through fundraising.

The members of Team Libby Judge truly committed themselves to fundraising, explained HelpHOPELive Fundraising Coordinator Joni Henderson: “It was their early morning job. For at least an hour and a half each morning and throughout the afternoon, these families did everything they could to ensure the fundraiser would be a success.” And it was.

On June 6, 2014, over 600 members of the local community gathered to show their support. The event exceeded expectations, raising more money than the organizers had hoped for. Instead of resting on the success of that first fundraising effort, Team Libby Judge continued having regular meetings to make plans for additional fundraisers, including tennis tournaments, a jewelry open house and a percentage of sales night held during a popular annual holiday shopping event in Libby’s area.

Libby Judge Live It Up event HelpHOPELive

Team Libby Judge coordinated auction items for the first fundraising event in her honor.

Libby Judge Live It Up event HelpHOPELive 2

A collage at the first annual fundraiser recognizes Libby’s life and loved ones.

In addition to contributing their time and energy to event planning, family and friends also helped with a house renovation project that added an accessible addition to Libby’s home. “Team Libby Judge went above and beyond,” said Joni Henderson. “No one understood the magnitude of their reach in the community until these events began to come together. They changed Libby’s life with their actions.”

Libby Judge spinal cord injury fundraising HelpHOPELive home renovations

Team Libby Judge helped renovate Libby’s home to improve accessibility.

Over a year post-accident, thanks to the groundwork established by Team Libby Judge, family and friends continue to come out in droves to show their love and support for Libby and her family as they heal from her 2014 spinal cord injury.

Libby Judge

Libby and her family continue to heal with support from Team Libby Judge.

On October 16, 2015, HelpHOPELive will recognize Team Libby Judge with the Help award for excellence in fundraising. We thank these special individuals for their time, energy and compassion.

help-hope-live-it-upThe Help award will be presented to Team Libby Judge at this year’s HelpHOPE-Live it Up! benefit on October 16.

What Can Spinal Cord Injury Therapy Do For Me?

As Mobility Awareness Month continues, we look at how physical therapy can help to boost your body and mind following a spinal cord injury.

Robert Mudge became a C5/C6 quadriplegic after an accident in 2001. Physical therapy and adaptive athletics have helped Robert to maintain a positive mindset and keep his body strong.

Robert Mudge quadriplegic rugby adaptive athletics

Robert, did your injury influence your interests and hobbies?

Growing up, I tried any sport or activity that grabbed my interest thanks to my supportive parents, including baseball, football, working out, bowling, BMX racing, surfing and fishing.

After my injury, I thought all of these hobbies and others were lost to me. However, over the years I’ve learned that I can still take part in similar sports and activities, just in a different manner. It wasn’t until 2007 that I discovered I could play a team sport again: quad rugby, with the Brooks Bandits in Jacksonville, Florida. In order to surf, instead of standing on the board I can lie on my stomach on the board, propped up on my elbows.

There are countless sports that can be played with a little adaptation: playing pool, swimming, table tennis, tennis, fishing, cycling, bowling, basketball, hockey…the list goes on.

Robert Mudge surf quadriplegic wheelchair surfing

Were you hesitant to get involved in adaptive athletics?

I was a little apprehensive at first when I gave these new activities a try, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to engage at the same caliber I was used to. I tried not to let that fear limit me or prevent the growth that I could experience by participating.

What helps you maintain your peace-of-mind?

Hope and faith both help me keep my sanity: hope that I can get better, and faith that I will. There are no guarantees that either will happen, but I believe both of those forces are very powerful. Combining those elements with relentless effort, goals, support from family and friends and a determination never to give up helped me get to where I am today.

How do you cope with injury anniversaries?

When I am faced with injury anniversaries or times when I feel like my progress is stagnant, I reflect back on how far I’ve come and celebrate the things I CAN do rather than harping on the things I still can’t do.

Robert Mudge walk stand quadriplegic

What did physical therapy do for you?

Thanks to a HelpHOPELive fundraiser, I was able to afford my first trip to Project Walk in Carlsbad, California. I realized I had found what I was looking for. It was so refreshing to be treated as a ‘normal’ person and to be moved and rehabilitated outside of my wheelchair.

[Project Walk] had me doing things I knew I couldn’t do, and that approach was frustrating at first. The staff recognized that one day, with repetitive training, I could get there. That’s exactly what happened over the years. I’ve continued working on rehabilitation in my home gym and at Project Walk Orlando year-round.

Do you find your hobbies therapeutic?

I think moving in general is therapeutic. Whether you’re engaging your mind or your body, staying active and in motion is a great thing. Just like they say, things in motion stay in motion.


Brian Keeter was left paralyzed from the waist down after a near-fatal car accident. Brian works out and advocates for spinal cord injury research to stay perpetually engaged in recovery.

Brian Keeter advocacy spinal cord injury SCI

Brian, did your injury change your participation in sports?

I played sports my entire life, and even played basketball in college. Leading up the accident, I had been playing in recreational league game with my friends and I played basketball several times every week, including Saturday mornings at 7 am. I have spent a lot of time working with exercise specialists to get stronger, stay fit and maximize my physical functioning. I’ve stayed on top of the research being done to find cures or improve rehabilitative therapies. I started my own foundation to identify and support spinal cord injury research.

Walk On Foundation spinal cord injury research tech rehab physical therapy

What do you like about working out?

I try to do all I can do to maximize what I have and prepare my body for the treatments and therapies that will be available in the future. Working out is therapeutic: you get to see that there are others dealing with the same or similar circumstances and, in some cases, worse circumstances. When I work out, I feel like I am physically working to do something about my physical limitations.

I have gotten stronger, particularly in my upper body and core, and I have gained movement in my hip flexors and gluts. My body feels better after working out because the exercises loosen me up and let me stretch out. When I have been traveling or have otherwise been unable to work out for a few days, I experience more pain, most likely because of increased tightness in my body.

Celebrate Mobility Awareness Month with us! Share your story on Facebook or on Twitter.

Pursuing Your Passions After A Spinal Cord Injury

In honor of Mobility Awareness Month, we are exploring how a spinal cord injury can impact your passions and your perspective on life.

Kirk Williams is an avid explorer who sustained a C5 spinal cord injury in a mountain biking accident in 2009. Kirk continues to seek out new experiences and stretch his limits every day.

spinal cord injury Kirk Williams travel photography barn adventure

Kirk, how did your injury influence your thirst for adventure?

My injury did influence my hobbies post-accident but I haven’t stopped doing what I love. I still do photography, camp, mountain bike and various other things. I’ve also learned how to do new hobbies like wheelchair rugby, scuba diving and hand cycling. I love travel, and I was not reluctant at all to travel after my injury. I got back into my adventure lifestyle.

Kirk Williams spinal cord injury HelpHOPELive service dog mountains river adventure

Are there any hobbies that help you to stay positive?

Writing on my blog was beneficial, especially being able to look back and see the things that used to trouble me that I have since overcome. I usually use every anniversary as a day to look back and see just how far I’ve progressed, and I remind myself that anything is possible.

Kirk Williams travel mountain snow view wheelchair

What do you like about travel?

What I love most about travel is getting out of my comfort zone and experiencing new things. I’ve always loved to check out new spots. Now, being a quadriplegic just adds a little more preparation into making it possible. Life is short, so why not try to experience it to the fullest!?


Rachael Short is a photographer who became a quadriplegic after a spinal cord injury in 2010. Rachael hasn’t let her injury slow down her passionate pursuit of the perfect shot.

Rachael Short photography HelpHOPELive rose black and white

Rachel, did your passion for photography change after your injury?

I always knew that I would continue photography in one way or another. I didn’t take a single photograph for a year after my accident: I didn’t even have enough strength in my arms to hold a camera. I started using an iPhone to take photos, making digital negatives from the images and platinum printing in the darkroom with help from a good friend.

The iPhone has aided in my healing process by allowing me to continue taking photos. The challenge has been making the device work for me in a way that other ‘professional’ cameras did before my accident.

Rachael Short photograph black and white silhouette

What keeps you positive as you recover?

Every year, I get stronger and life gets a little easier. I have always been a hard worker and I maintain that attitude within my daily rehabilitation. In my greenhouse-turned-gym at home, I put up a quote from Confucius: ‘It does not matter how slowly you go, so long as you do not stop.’

Rachael Short photography lake black and white

What is your favorite thing about photography?

What I like most about photography is being able to share my vision of the world, with the world. Art is very therapeutic. Taking photos slows me down and makes me really appreciate the beauty around me, like the sun through the trees or clouds in the sky.

Celebrate Mobility Awareness Month with us! Share your story on Facebook or on Twitter.