Tag Archives: spine injury

Mobility Matters: “You Are Always Stronger Than You Think You Are”

Just a few days before her final college exams, Morgan Ott fell through scaffolding and became paralyzed from the chest down with limited right hand function. Twenty-two year-old Morgan explains how life has changed since the injury and how mobility impacts her daily life.

Morgan Ott HelpHOPELive

Morgan fundraises for mobility essentials


How much did you know about spinal cord injury before you were injured?


Before my injury, I knew little to nothing about spinal cord injury. I have learned a tremendous amount since. When my injury happened, my close friends and family members researched spinal cord injury, the healing process and how my day-to-day life would be affected. I am learning new things every day.

Morgan Ott HelpHOPELive

Morgan says she “is learning new things every day”


How did your community respond to your injury?


My family has been by my side from the moment I was in the emergency room. In the beginning, they took me to all of my doctors’ appointments and therapy sessions. Now, they are still always there when I need someone to talk to or if I need any help. Coworkers, friends and the community also reached out to show me their support.

Morgan Ott HelpHOPELive

Friends and family have supported Morgan throughout her journey

My friends came to visit me in the hospital often, and one of my sorority sisters set me up with my first fundraising page with a goal of $5,000 on a crowdfunding platform. I switched from a crowdfunding site to HelpHOPELive because I had heard great things about the organization, and how it was easier to continuously raise funds for lifetime expenses with support from HelpHOPELive. Fundraising with HelpHOPELive allows me to request the funds when I need them instead of having to wait until I reach a set goal amount.


Will fundraising influence your mobility options?


Yes! I am currently fundraising for a Galileo tilt table, therapy at Project Walk, a standing frame, an FES system to help my circulation and keep my muscles active, and a Smartdrive power assist device to help me get around more easily by myself.


Have you experienced a range of different emotions since you were injured?


I think I have experienced probably every emotion possible, from extreme happiness to feeling very depressed. I often find that when I am the happiest, I think more about how much better my situation would be if I could just get up and walk again, and then I get very sad. It’s like extreme happiness comes with a price. Most days, though, I am very content and just happy to be where I am.


What do you think is the most common misconception about life in a wheelchair?


A lot of people assume that since I am in a wheelchair I need help with every daily activity or that I can’t live on my own or provide for myself. Most people are also surprised when they find out that I drive (with the use of hand controls).

Morgan Ott HelpHOPELive

“A lot of people assume…I need help with every daily activity”


What advice would you give to someone else living with a spinal cord injury?


You are always stronger than you think you are. No matter what obstacles life gives you, there are ways to get past them and continue living a healthy life. In terms of working with HelpHOPELive and covering your expenses, it’s never too late to fundraise, but the sooner the better.


Do you still strive to maintain an active lifestyle?


I recently moved down to southern California with my best friend. I am pursuing physical therapy twice a week for two hours per session, and I am finishing school with Arizona State University online. I am planning to get a job within the next couple of weeks to help me keep busy and make money. I also started attending a wheelchair dance class in which there are many other women around my age in chairs learning and performing routines.

Morgan Ott HelpHOPELive

Morgan attends a chair-inclusive dance class


What are your biggest mobility priorities at the moment?


I am focused on staying active with my physical therapies. My goal for physical therapy is to work on core strength and balance and gain back any amount of function, no matter how small.


Where would you like to be in five or 10 years?


In five years, I will have graduated from college and hopefully have a steady job that I enjoy. I can see myself in a steady relationship, establishing a life for myself, having done some traveling in Europe and Asia. In 10 years, I would like to have a successful career and a family.


In your video, you say, “We were going to make it through” after the accident. Do you still feel that way?


More so now than when I was in the hospital, I feel like I’m going to make it through. Keeping a positive attitude definitely helps me carry out day-to-day activities with more confidence and happiness.

Morgan Ott HelpHOPELive

“Keeping a positive attitude definitely helps me,” says Morgan


Unlock new mobility possibilities for yourself or someone you love. Start a fundraising campaign with HelpHOPELive at helphopelive.org. Mobility matters!

In Times Of Crisis, Love Brings Us Together

These quotes from individuals and families from all walks of life show just how important love and support can be as you strive to meet the challenges before you.

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Love Keeps Us Strong…


“For the love of our son, Nick, we want to be here for him and his able-bodied brother for as long as possible. That’s what keeps us strong and driven.”

Nick and mom for love quotes post

-Judy, mother of Nick Rouse (injured in 2008)


Love Helps Us Thrive…


“We wouldn’t be thriving as well as we are without love. Love in its many forms is what keeps us pushing forward.”

-Kristen and Jeff Sachs (injured in 2013)


Love Keeps Us Going…


“I believe love plays a big role in health. It is family and friends that keep you going and your spouse or partner and kids that give you the fight to carry on and get a normal life back. #NeverRetreatNeverSurrender”

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Michael Carns (fighting MS)


Love Gives Us Hope…


“Love from family or friends gives a person the will to keep pushing and the hope of a better outcome. If everyday struggles become overwhelming, the distraction of love can soothe the soul.

Love is also a powerful tool. While in the Shepherd Center for two months with my son, I saw people who didn’t have any friends or family to support them, whether it was someone to watch a movie with or someone to give them homemade food or a silly gift. Those people did not thrive in recovery, did not smile or laugh, and did not have the desire to get up and do therapy. There was an employee at the Shepherd Center who gave every person and family member a hug, every single day. She knew the power of love.”

-Lori, mother of John LeMoine (injured in 2014)


Love Keeps Us Healthy…


“Love and the time we spend with each other and people who are special to us has been at the center of Suria’s recovery and it has kept us both healthier. There are times when one of us may not feel well, but after a few laughs, it’s like you’ve been given a special pill that can help fix what ails you. Just the act of loving another can make you love yourself more. You’ll find you start taking extra steps to take care of yourself just to keep that good feeling going.”

-Kirby and Suria Nordin (injured in 2014)


Love Motivates Us…


“On this difficult road to recovery, the love God has for me and the love I have for my family is the source of my strength. It is love that gives me the will to work harder than I thought I could and to keep going when so often I’ve wanted to surrender.”

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Joe Piscitelli (injured in 2014)


Our goal is to help people fundraise within their own communities for their medical and related expenses. It’s true that fundraising can help you secure tangible resources, like medication or physical therapy sessions, that improve your health and quality of life. But fundraising isn’t just about money: fundraising gives your friends and family members the opportunity to lift you up and offer you the emotional support that nourishes you as you face your medical burdens.

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Do you know someone who is struggling with medical expenses and is in need of financial and emotional support? Consider helping him or her to launch a fundraising campaign to ease the burden.

Voices Of Hope: We Stayed Together After A Catastrophic Injury

Katie started dating Richard Travia when they were freshmen at Villanova University. Two years after graduation, Richard became paralyzed from the chest down after a diving accident at the beach. Katie and Richard stayed together after the injury and, today, they are happily married with two young children.

Richard and Katie Travia HelpHOPELive

Katie and Richard with their two youngsters in 2014


Did the injury impact your relationship?


Katie: The early stages were challenging, scary and overwhelming. Richard’s injury was a big obstacle on our path together, but we didn’t let it stop us from continuing with our goals and future. Today, there are still limitations to what we can do as a couple. For instance, we haven’t traveled to Europe together since his injury because we are fearful of the accessibility challenges; we can’t do some outdoor activities together that we used to enjoy; but we find enjoyment and travel opportunities elsewhere. The injury has brought us challenges, but our relationship is stronger than ever.


Today, how does love play a role in your daily life?


Richard is my best friend and soulmate. We met and started dating when we were young, but we have grown and gone through so much together. I can’t imagine going through a day without talking to him 10 times. We are always eager to see each other every evening after work. Aside from the fact that he can’t stand on his own anymore, you would barely know that the injury had occurred. He is always positive, patient and logical. He keeps me in check.

Katie Richard Travia HelpHOPELive engagement

Katie calls Richard her “best friend and soulmate”

Each day has its own challenges, but we have built an amazing family together with two beautiful children and an awesome dog. Our love for each other and our love for our family is overwhelming to us. Sometimes, amidst the craziness at home, we will both look at each other and smile and say, “Look how lucky we are.”


How did Richard propose to you?


He was amazingly determined to keep with tradition: for months he practiced getting down on one knee during physical therapy. We got engaged on Christmas in 2007 and got married in October of 2008 at my church in New Jersey. Richard practiced standing in physical therapy, and with the help of two friends and a walker, he stood when I walked down the aisle and when we said our vows.

Richard and Katie Travia wedding

Richard pursed physical therapy to be able to stand for his wedding vows


What advice would you give to someone else trying to hold onto their relationship after injury?


Keeping a positive mindset and remembering that things won’t always go as planned is the best way to remain sane. Surround yourself with positive people and things that make you happy. Find great support groups online or in your community and talk to people going through a similar situation.


How does your family and community provide support?


Being in a wheelchair for 10 years has its challenges, both physical and psychological. Richard has been lucky, because everyone surrounded him when he was injured and they stuck with him. He was able to move on with the life that he wanted to have because of that support. Our immediate family and friends have been amazing to us over the years, whether by modifying their homes to accommodate Richard’s needs or helping to lift Richard into a restaurant, home or location for a social outing.

HelpHOPELive friends fundraising

Friends and family “stuck with him” when Richard was injured

Another major source of support was the Villanova community. We graduated from Villanova together but we have received support from people we didn’t even graduate with. From getting people together to watch the game at home with Richard to VIP tickets to basketball games, our Villanova family has been so amazingly supportive. Now, Richard gives back to that community through his involvement with the Villanova Alumni Senate and other activities on campus.


Did that support translate into fundraising success?


Within the first two years after Richard’s injury, we did a great deal of fundraising with HelpHOPELive [pictured below], including a 5K Walk/Run, open bar nights and small events at schools in our area. The support was overwhelming. We were able to raise over $200,000, which has helped us tremendously. We are still relying on those funds now a decade later to cover medical expenses.

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One of our largest purchases was an accessible van for Richard. We were also able to cover the cost of home exercise equipment, prescriptions, ramps and other purchases that helped to make our living situation more accessible for him. The expenses associated with paralysis never go away and insurance covers very little, so the fundraising we did early on has provided some comfort for us over the years.


What is the thing you love most about your relationship?


Richard and I don’t have the best luck, but through all the obstacles over the years, we have still accomplished all that we wanted to accomplish, and we have done it together, as a team.


Did you find love before or after a life-changing injury or illness? Share your story with us in the comments section below and you could be selected to participate in an interview!

Coming Home For The Holidays

At HelpHOPELive, the holidays have always represented a few key things to us, including community, hope and home. For many families, the holiday season represents new beginnings or the conclusion of one journey as a new adventure or challenge begins. That’s why we were so pleased to find the uplifting artwork created by Thomas Swanston, artist and husband of paralyzed artist Gail Foster.

Artists Gail Foster and Thomas Swanston

Artists Gail Foster and Thomas Swanston

Tom’s work is inspired and informed by his perception of home and healing. “For me and my wife, the holidays are a hectic time that have often included hospitals, “ said Tom. “Gail has come a long way, so our holiday will be filled with more gratitude than ever before.” Tom frequently touches on the theme of migration in his work. As he described it, “”Migrations remind us of nature’s ability to renew and revive itself… Such is also the human life.” Here are a few more of Tom’s reflections on that physical and emotional journey:

“Migration speaks to the mystic movement through space and time, from one location to another and the ultimate return home.”

Thomas Swanston

“The recurring patterns…remind us of nature’s ability to renew and revive itself, rhythmically changing, yet remaining stable and consistent through the seasons.”

Thomas Swanston

“Like migratory birds, physical and spiritual travelers alike explore new or familiar places, always to return to the one special locale they call ‘home.’”

Thomas Swanston

“All journeys have a purpose and an end, no matter how long they might be or how far away from home they may take us. We don’t just hope something will happen, we put one foot in front of the other every day.”

Thomas Swanston

Tom has graciously allowed HelpHOPELive to incorporate his artwork into our limited edition holiday card for our most loyal and generous donors who represent the Kolff Society. “Working with HelpHOPELive has provided us with the opportunity to raise funds for Gail’s personal care, insurance premiums, uncovered medications and a whole host of other expenses related to her health that have, up until now, been beyond our capabilities,” said Tom. “I always like to contribute to worthy causes and HelpHOPELive certainly fits that bill.”


For Tom and Gail, art is a way of life. The two own StudioSwan in Atlanta, a gallery that showcases their vast range of artistic talents.

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.

Love, Commitment and the Honest Life of a Caregiver

For National Family Caregivers Month this November, we’re profiling individuals who have taken on a caregiver role to support their loved ones. We interviewed Rich Reedy, who has been supporting his wife since a 2014 accident left her with an incomplete spinal cord injury that requires constant care.


Do you consider yourself a caregiver?


I absolutely do consider myself a caregiver. We are fortunate enough in our household to have many people in our circle who we consider caregivers, including a young woman, Judy, who comes in twice a day to support [my wife] Eileen; and Patrick, Bridget and Jacquelyn, our three children, who help out significantly. I serve as a caregiver coordinator, in a manner of speaking: I’m not a boss and not a commander, just a “keeper of the schedule”!

Eileen Reedy HelpHOPELive

Rich Reedy (left) with Eileen Reedy (center) and family.


Is emotional support as important as physical support when you care for someone with an injury?


In my experience, emotional support is a vital part of overall healing. If my wife is not in a good place or if one of our caregivers is unhappy, that attitude is definitely contagious. It’s important to me to try to keep people happy. We want people to support Eileen because their hearts are in it 100%, not because they feel like they NEED to be there. If their hearts are not in it, we do whatever we can to get them there, so that emotional connection is maintained.


What helps you to find relief when you are stressed or upset?

I find my own ways to relieve tension but, in all honesty, when a bad mood starts, it often has to clear on its own. Eileen continues to impress us with her commitment to therapy and progress. Seeing that progress in action is a great motivator and encourager. To me, it’s important to reinforce the good, for my own benefit and for the benefit of other caregivers. I play a role in helping others by reminding them that they are doing a great job and are making an important contribution. Just like in life itself, in caregiving it can make a big difference to be positive and to look for ways to ease the stress and the repetition, so you can continue to take on challenges day after day.


What is the best part of caring for a loved one? The most difficult part?


The best part is loving Eileen and supporting her on her healing journey. Caregiving really can change who you are. I was a man of no patience – now, I am a man of SOME patience, at least! I’ve still got a long way to go.

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The worst part is struggling to find time to unwind and clear your mind and finding ways to avoid self-criticism. My day is composed of getting up early and making good use of every spare moment in the day. I run my own business out of my house, so I’m fortunate to be able to work in between assisting Eileen and supporting the rest of the care team. By 6 p.m., I have no brain left! Sometimes I just like to take a few minutes to sit and unwind at the end of a day. I honestly struggle to remember what my life was like before I took on this role!


Which words would you use to describe caring for a loved one?


The two words I’d use to describe caregiving would be love and commitment.


Do you have any advice for other families who are learning about caregiving after injury?


First, I would advise them to lean on professional support. While Eileen was in the hospital, the staff really showed me what my life would look like, even though I didn’t realize at the time that they were preparing me for that reality! I didn’t know that it was going to be a life-changing experience that would last longer than weeks or months. Professional support like that can really help.

Eileen Reedy HelpHOPELive

Eileen with a service dog, Moose.

I’d encourage people who are about to become caregivers to take a look at caregiver resources like books and manuals. Having a guide helped me a lot – I turned to a book called Taking Care of Yourself While Providing Care. The book is written for caregivers who care for people with spinal cord injuries, but its lessons are relevant to any caregiver. Managing self-care is something that professionals and books will always emphasize; it’s as important as ever to take care of yourself when you become a caregiver, if not more important. If you’re not in a good spot, you can’t help anyone else.

My last piece of advice would be to consider accepting outside help. Our twice-per-day caregiver, Judy, has become like a part of our family, but she still has her own life and her own world outside of us. That means we can chat, talk and laugh with her and those interactions don’t overlap with the rest of our family life. It can be a really nice diversion, and that person also comes in with a “clean slate” and not a host of other worries and long-term concerns to bring to the table. She can give Eileen her full concentration, which is helpful for all of us.


We’ll be celebrating caregivers all month. Have a caregiving story to tell? Reach out to us and you could be featured in an upcoming Blog post!

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.

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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.