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Learning to Live a New Life After a Pediatric Spinal Cord Injury

At Shriners Hospitals for Children — Philadelphia, the staff has provided care to children and teens with spinal cord injuries since the early 1980s. The hospital has a designated team to inform, educate and help provide a better quality of life for people with spinal cord injuries.

Six-year-old Memphis was transferred to the Philadelphia Shriners Hospital after she broke her neck in a car accident near her home outside of West Palm Beach, Florida. Flown to Philadelphia by air ambulance, Memphis and her mother and grandmother were eager to begin Memphis’ intensive physical and occupational therapy. This rehabilitation trip would also help determine if she was a candidate for any other innovative surgeries or treatments.

After sustaining a life-changing injury, being in the hospital can be very traumatic for a young patient and also for the family learning to take care of the child's new needs. The rehabilitation team works hard to ensure that patients and caretakers feel comfortable enough to transition back to living at home.

“Shriners Hospital has definitely helped all of us to cope better and feel more comfortable with Memphis’s injury,” said Memphis’s mother, Gayrene. “I came here not knowing if I would ever feel comfortable to handle care for Memphis on my own. I was at about 50%, and now I am 97% sure that I can handle it. There is a lot that has to be done, but after being here, I feel like there is nothing I can’t do.”

Gayrene, Memphis and her grandmother, Tanya, have become a team, learning and coping with their new way of life.

“Memphis and her mom make a wonderful team,” said Jaclyn Miley, MS, OTR/L. “Their communication and strong, trusting relationship have carried them far throughout their stay here. Together, they can laugh during the good days and cry during tough times. They strive to be on the same page and leave it all on the table. It is amazing to watch! This bond will carry them far after they leave Shriners Hospital and head home to the next stage.”

Over the last few months, Memphis has learned new ways to communicate, play, and get around in her sip and puff-style wheelchair. She would often be seen racing around in her customized electric wheelchair. Memphis’s favorite time at the Philadelphia Shriners Hospital was when she had music therapy with Becky, who has enjoyed working with Memphis.

“Making music with Ms. Memphis has been one of the highlights of my career at Shriners Hospital,” said music therapist Becky Dadi. “She is such a bright, smart, funny, and strong girl, and that forced me to constantly think outside the box and be the most creative music therapist I could be. Seeing how Memphis’s mom and family all work together as a team to help Memphis reach her goals has also greatly inspired me. I could always count on them to also participate in music.”

As their first visit came to an end, Memphis and her family looked forward to going home. Memphis was most looking forward to reuniting with her service dog, Juliette.

“I miss my Barbies, games and make-up, but I can’t wait to see my Juliette again,” said Memphis.

Thanks to Chasin’ a Dream Foundation and Furry Friends Adoption, Memphis will get a service dog to help her at home. Juliette is currently in service dog training boot camp and will eventually help Memphis with tasks such as picking things up, opening doors, and turning light switches on and off.

Although Gayrene was unsure at first, she was ready to go back home. Now feeling more prepared, she is also very grateful for the staff and her experience at the Philadelphia Shriners Hospital. “Everyone has been so great, especially the entire respiratory team,” said Gayrene. “I wish I could take them home with me, but what I am most grateful for is their patience and willingness to answer all my questions through this process. As a parent, I also felt that my opinion counted when making many decisions about my daughter’s care. I am forever grateful.”

Memphis during recreational therapy with therapist

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