Rebuilding lives after spinal cord injury.

A Second Chance at Rehab

by Farzana Z Ali

Farzana-ESCI-2014Do you remember those days following your spinal cord injury when you were in an acute rehab facility? For many of us, it was not easy to push that fragile body, right after such a traumatic incident, to work hard and take full advantage of the facilities provided in a rehab institution. After many months of institutionalized living, transitioning to the community feels like a great accomplishment, but it also shifts all the responsibilities involving our care to our own hands. Most often, rules and regulations imposed by insurance companies prevent people like us from continuing outpatient therapy. Despite the comfort and independence in our home, we sometimes long for a second chance at that high quality rehab we got right after our injury at a time when our mind and body were not as strong as they are now.

This is where the Empower SCI program plays an important role, by offering a second chance at rehabilitation when the patient’s body is properly healed and more prepared. But to me, it did not feel like a formal rehabilitation program, rather I found a new family away from my home. I met people who I could connect with at a human level, people who did not see me just as a patient, as a broken person who needs to be fixed, but a human being with potential for a fulfilling life.

All of the members of this program were so kind and compassionate, I could really trust them. I could share my limitations and fears with them without hesitation. In many places I go to, often times I see myself as the only person on a wheelchair, and that sometimes makes me feel like an alien, like I do not belong there. But being in the program made me feel more normal, and taught me to focus more on my abilities, than being dispirited by my disabilities. I could feel that the people in the program are in it, not because it is their profession, but because they truly care, and they want to make a difference in people’s lives. I know you will get the same feeling when you come to this program.

At Empower, we had regular therapy sessions with our Physical Therapist, Occupational Therapist, Rehabilitation Counselor, Massage Therapist, and many other care providers during the week. We went out into the community, to the YMCA pool in Patchogue for swimming, to the Setauket harbor for kayaking, and many other places in Long Island for fun and challenging activities. The team members tried to accommodate the participants with equipment and devices, depending on individual disabilities, so that we could actively participate in those activities. They have a very broad network throughout Long Island, New York and other states. I feel fortunate to become part of a very powerful community, with people who are very inspiring and motivating. We get to stay in touch through various events all the year round.

Note:  This article is reprinted with permission from the Winter 2015 SCI Newsletter published by The Mount Sinai Hospital Department of Rehabiliation.

Applications are now open for Empower SCI 2015 , which will be held at Stony Brook University July 12- 25, 2015.  If you are interested in attending, see for an application.