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Spinal Cord Injury Paralysis Resource Center

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Helping Hands

Donna Lowich's son, Jeffrey, age 5.

Donna Lowich's son, Jeffrey, age 5.

By Donna Lowich

The first time I saw those tiny wrinkled little hands, I was amazed. I marveled at how those small, perfect hands possessed the ability to grasp my finger and capture my heart at the same time. Now, I know what doctors say about that being a reflex action. But I know better. It was an instant connection between my son, Jeffrey, and me.

The bond had been formed long before he was born. Somehow, between periods of morning sickness and cravings for strawberry milkshakes and cranberry juice with LOTS of ice, I knew my baby was a boy. And that's the direction my conversations took: "Good morning, little Jeffrey," I would whisper as I -- we -- would get ready to face another day together. "What should we do today?"

Impact of Jeffrey's grip
Our relationship was later cemented even further by Jeffrey's tight grip on my finger, first in the hospital and later at home. When we were home together, just the two of us, I repeatedly placed my finger in the palm of his small hand, and said, "Jeffrey, I love you so much," to which he responded with a long, knowing stare that translated to, "I love you, too." Just how much would be revealed to me much, much later and in many, many ways.

As Jeffrey grew into a delightful toddler, his hands became the center of games designed to enhance his sense of self-awareness: Peek-A-Boo, SO Big, Pat-a-Cake. At the end of the games, he would clap those little hands in delight, throw back his head and laugh. At other times, we would look at a book, and I would take his hand, and point to a picture and ask, "Who's this?" He sometimes responded by grabbing my hand, pointing at the pictures, and he would look at me, waiting for a correct reply to his command, "You" as in "You answer this one."

At age three, in his first Christmas pageant, Jeffrey was an angel. Once on stage, he nervously scanned the audience. When he spotted us, he smiled, hooked his thumb in his pants pocket and furtively waved to us with the other four fingers. Oh, those little hands! They were still bringing us joy.

The hope Jeffrey brings
Within two years, though, things changed drastically. I underwent two spinal cord surgeries and ended up in the hospital for six weeks, followed by a stint in the rehab center to receive physical therapy for an additional five months. During that time, Jeffrey visited regularly along with my husband, Walter. Those visits did more than I can say to bring hope and love and laughter to my otherwise dreary and rather grim reality.

Jeffrey giving hug to his mom.

Jeffrey giving hug to his mom.

Jeffrey's visits involved making up jokes to make me laugh. One time, he raced in to sing me a song, memorizing the words and melody of a song that embraced our special bond: "That's What Friends Are For". There was a magical element to my four-year-old son singing, "Keep smiling, Keep shining, ..Knowing you can always count on me, for sure.." During other visits, he placed his gentle little hands around mine, saying not a word, a comforting move that would become his signature gesture as he grew up. Oh, those marvelous little hands!

A few years later, when Jeffrey was in grade school, he would plan my Mother's Day surprise weeks in advance. On that morning, he would get up early, and sit in the kitchen, with his two little hands carefully balancing a basket of fruit, tea and cookies that he bought at school. As soon as he would see me, he would shout, "Happy Mother's Day, Mommy!" with little-boy exuberance. And, indeed, it was a very happy day, because he made it so.

How I was left out
Several years after I returned to work, I encountered a troubling situation. My co-workers from several nearby buildings were in my office after a meeting. I heard whispered conversations and thought I heard "lunch" mentioned, but I wasn't sure. I left the area for a few minutes, only to return to find out that everyone had left to go out to a restaurant. I was devastated.

Due to my paralysis, I needed help to get in and out of the building and then assistance in to the restaurant. These same co-workers had always helped me in the past. I couldn't understand why they waited until I left the room before they left; the mere thought of such exclusion was extremely painful to me, indeed.

Jeffrey, age seventeen, came home from school that day and found me at the kitchen table, sobbing, with my head on my arms. I managed to tearfully describe what happened. Jeff said nothing, but I felt the warmth of his hands envelop mine once more. His hands worked their magic once again as I felt the abandonment melt away, replaced by the warmth and comfort of Jeffrey's love. Jeffrey's kind nature and helping hands have changed the old adage into: "Warm hands, warm heart". Even in high school, Jeffrey continued to reach out to others. The same strong hands that gripped his baseball bat to hit homeruns were the same hands that gently picked up his cat, Lucky, always softly caressing his feline friend's fur.

First day at the Reeve Foundation
While Jeffrey was in college, I changed jobs; I was going to work for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation! Jeffrey was home from college and drove me into work for my first day. After he brought me into my new office, he squeezed my hands to say goodbye. His hands, his helping hands, were there for me once again!

Today, Jeffrey is married and has a baby daughter of his own. When Jeffrey holds, plays and cares for my granddaughter, Karaleen, I know for sure that she is in very good and capable hands.

The tiny little hands that first worked their magic on me more than thirty years ago have helped me overcome many obstacles in the intervening years. He did this for me, not because I am his mother, but because he is my son.

Editor's note: Donna Lowich is an;Information Specialist in the Foundation's Paralysis Resource Center. Donna was spinal cord injured over twenty years ago and has since dedicated her life to helping others living with paralysis.

Tell us your story
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A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Religion and People with Disabilities (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Adjustment to SCI (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Aging with SCI (PDF)

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A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on SCI Chat Rooms (PDF)

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A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on SCI Videos (PDF)

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Arkansas Spinal Cord CommissionThe mission of the Arkansas Spinal Cord Commission is to administer a statewide program to identify and meet the unique and lifelong needs of people with spinal cord disabilities in the state.

CareCure CommunityCareCure Community features a SpinalNurse bulletin board with informed comments on matters of the bowel, and all issues of paralysis.

Canadian & American Spinal Research OrganizationPromotes and supports funding research to ultimately find a cure for paralysis. Also publishes journal of latest research they fund. Call (800) 361-4004 or use the link above.

Canadian Paraplegic AssociationAssists people with spinal cord injuries and other disabilities to achieve individuality, self-reliance and full community participation. Call (613) 723-1033 or use the link above.

Craig HospitalWith funding from the US Department of Education's National Institute on Disability & Rehabilitation Research, has developed educational materials to help people with spinal cord injuries live in the community maintain their health. Topics include skin care, exercise, heart disease, weight control, alcohol abuse and conditions related to the aging body. Use the link above and click on SCI Health and Wellness.

Determined 2 HealProvides helpful information for the newly spinal cord injured.

FacingDisability.comFacing Disability is a web resource with more than 1,000 videos drawn from interviews of people with spinal cord injuries, their families, caregivers and experts. I know that this is a lot to ask, but we'd be so grateful for your help. I'm looking forward to discussing this link with you, and to answering any questions you may have.

Model Systems CentersA federally funded program of 14 specialty medical and/or rehabilitation centers across the US. The SCI Care System collects and submits acute, rehabilitation and follow-up (annual, long-term post-discharge) data on SCI patients who received care in the these centers following injury.

The Miami Project to Cure ParalysisThe Miami Project to Cure Paralysis has studied functional electrical systems for exercise.

The National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center (NSCISC)NSCISC supervises and directs the collection, management and analysis of the world's largest spinal cord injury database. Headquartered at the University of Alabama, Birmingham.

National Resource Center for Parents with DisabilitiesA deep resource on childbirth and parenting, adaptive equipment for childcare, networking and support groups

National Spinal Cord Injury Association (NSCIA)At NSCIA, we educate and empower survivors of spinal cord injury and disease to achieve and maintain the highest levels of independence, health and personal fulfillment. We fulfill this mission by providing an innovative Peer Support Network and by raising awareness about spinal cord injury and disease through education.

New York Online Access to Health (N.O.A.H)Offers information and links related to spinal cord and head injury treatment, rehabilitation, and children. Materials in Spanish.

Neuroscience for KidsOffers an understandable look at the segments of the spinal cord; from University of Washington.

Paralyzed Veterans of America, in support of The Consortium for Spinal Cord Medicine, offers authoritative clinical practice guidelines for bladder management. Consumer guides are available to download.

Parenting with Disabilities OnlineProvides information, support and resources to parents with disabilities.

Parents On WheelsSite is dedicated to parents who use wheelchairs.

Parents with Disabilities OnlineProvide information and resources to parents with disabilities.

SpineUniverseAt SpineUniverse our goal is to help patients and their families understand their back or neck problems. In clear, straightforward language we aim to explain what causes spinal problems and how they can be treated. We are committed to ensure that all of the information we present is trustworthy and of the highest quality.

Spinal Cord Injury Information NetworkThe Spinal Cord Injury Information Center features clinical information about bowel management and all other medical issues of paralysis.

State Respite CoalitionsThe Chapel Hill Training-Outreach Project was established in 1969 with funding from the Federal government as part of our nation's earliest attempts to provide educational services to young children with disabilities.

Through the Looking GlassThe purpose of the National Parent-to-Parent Network at Through the Looking Glass is to connect parents, as well as those who are considering becoming parents, with others who may have shared similar experiences or faced common barriers as parents with disabilities.

United Spinal AssociationOur mission is to improve the quality of life of all Americans living with spinal cord injuries and disorders (SCI/D), including multiple sclerosis, spina bifida, Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS), and post polio.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Fact Sheet: VA and Spinal Cord InjuryOf the more than 250,000 Americans with serious spinal cord injuries and disorders, about 42,000 are veterans eligible for medical care and other benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Paralysis Resource Center The Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center Information Specialists are reachable business weekdays, Monday through Friday, toll-free at 800-539-7309 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm ET. You may also schedule a call or send a message online.

Reeve Foundation Online Paralysis Community Connecting people living with paralysis, families, friends and caregivers so we can share support, experience, knowledge, and hope.

Quality of Life Grants DatabaseFind resources within the PRC Quality of Life Grants Database. Search by Zip Code, State or an Entire Category.

Library Books and VideosFind resources within the PRC library catalog.

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The Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center Information Specialists are reachable business weekdays, Monday through Friday, toll-free at 800-539-7309 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Eastern U.S. Time. International callers use 973-467-8270. You may also schedule a call or send a message online.

This project was supported, in part by grant number 90PR3001, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects under government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official Administration for Community Living policy.