Rick Hayden, Executive Director of the Southern California Chapter of United Spinal, discusses the impact support groups can have on people living with spinal cord injuries.
“There are so many things to share with a person newly injured, I try to focus on the “light at the end of the tunnel” letting them know that they will get through the early stages with the help of family, friends, rehab professionals and our chapter.”
Rick became a T8 paraplegic in 1976 as a result of a motorcycle accident. When he was newly injured, Rick states his support group was limited to family. “Friends would visit occasionally but it seemed awkward,” he says. Rick was eventually connected with a peer mentoring group. His peer mentor became his best friend. This relationship led Rick to become a peer mentor.
Three months after returning home from rehab, Rick decided to stop attending support groups. “I soon realized that the group didn’t do much more than complain about things but didn’t do anything to correct them. I left after two meetings,” he says. Rick started to focus his attention on accomplishing goals such as becoming a founding member of the Western Mass Mean Machine wheelchair basketball team.
One year after his accident Rick and his friend Larry accomplished another goal by biking across Cape Cod on handcycles. The 78-mile long venture took two days and was covered by several media outlets. For Rick and Larry, this handcycle ride began a journey into advocacy and education on both architectural and attitudinal (A&A) barriers and the awareness of.
“I realized it was the leadership that would determine whether a support group was active in a positive way and advocated for change.”
Rick admits he shied away from support groups after attending his first meeting. However, with his newfound journey of advocacy and education came a new perspective. “I later (maybe a year and a half) realized it was the leadership that would determine whether a support group was active in a positive way and advocated for change,” says Rick.
Rick gives advice to those attending his support groups that are newly injured. He states, “There are so many things to share with a person newly injured, I try to focus on the “light at the end of the tunnel” letting them know that they will get through the early stages with the help of family, friends, rehab professionals and our chapter. A bit later I explain the importance of finding a Urologist and Physiatrist who really know and understand SCI and that they feel like there is a bond with them. I also talk with them about where they would like to be in 6 months, a year, two years and then establish a plan that would get them started on their journey.”
Rick leaves us with this thought-provoking statement -“Community is paramount, it is through community that change occurs. Community provides an opportunity for socialization, a chance to share ideas and goals, support of these ideas and goals, a chance to support others, a sense of purpose. I sometimes forget just how important community is but then something will happen to bring me back around.”
How has a support group changed your perspective? Share your story with us at AbleThrive.com!