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Spinal Cord Injury Paralysis Resource Center

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My First National Broadcast:
It's All Dr. Gottlieb's Fault!

Saralee Perel and Gracie, Her 4 Footed Coach.

Saralee Perel and Gracie,
her 4-footed coach.

By Saralee Perel

Last month I received a horrifying e-mail from our beloved Reeve Foundation psychologist, Dr. Dan Gottlieb. He hosts his own weekly show on National Public Radio called Voices in the Family.

His e-mail read: "We are doing a show on therapy dogs and your story could be part of the show." He was referring to my caregiver dog who helped me re-learn to walk after my spinal cord injury.

He added, "Could you e-mail my producer whatever information is relevant? Thanks so much."

Now, you might be saying, "What's so horrifying about that?"

A nervous wreck
And I'd answer, "WHAT?! I'll be so nervous that I'll go blank after everything Dr. Gottlieb asks me. Listeners will think there's a mime on the air!"

A week prior to the show, the producer, Jennifer, called me. She said that the broadcast wouldn't be taped. It would be live. I begged, "Oh please, can we tape it? I'll give you all my pets if you agree we can tape it."

"It's much better live."

So I laughed knowingly and tried saying, "Of course it is," which came out, "Yep, I know that. I mean I knew that. I mean, oh heck, know or knew, tomato, tom-ah-to -- "

Before I could complete my inane sentence, Jennifer, probably thinking, I can't believe Dan wants this bonehead on his show, said, "Let's have a mock interview ahead of time." So we set a date for that.

Support from my husband
My husband, Bob, heard my part of the mock interview. And actually, it went surprisingly well. So Bob helped boost my self-confidence. (Please note I’m being sarcastic.) He said, "You sounded amazing. You were so calm and composed and articulate that I couldn't believe it was you!"

Jennifer told me that Gottlieb would be interviewing me via our landline telephone. My part of the hour-long show would take place at precisely one half hour into the program. At that time, my phone would ring and I'd be right on the air. I was not to say hello. What I'd hear was Dr. Gottlieb welcoming me.

I had rehearsed -- oh I'd say about 4,500 times, the words, "Thank you for having me here."

On the day of the broadcast, 15 minutes before airtime, Jennifer called to make sure I was OK. What was I supposed to say to that? "Oh sure, Jenny. I'm about as OK as a woman swimming off the Florida coast who, upon seeing a huge fin speeding toward her, gets excited about appearing in a remake of Jaws and then realizes there's no film crew."

Instead I said I was just ducky.

The moment of truth
When the show came on the air, Bob and I listened to the first half hour on our cell phones. When it was a few seconds before my airtime, I heard, "And now, we have Saralee Perel, who is a nationally syndicated award-winning columnist whose dog, amazing Gracie, became her 24/7 caregiver after she suffered an inexplicable spinal cord injury 8 years ago."

As expected, my landline rang. I picked up and heard Dr. Gottlieb say, "Saralee, welcome to the show."

"Thank you for having me here," I said, which came out perfectly, thank God.

There was silence. Then he said, "Do we have you?"

I said, "Yes! I'm here." But nobody could hear me.

I heard him say, "We must have a line that's down."

Don't you find it unbelievable that there was a malfunction at that very second in the universe, and instead of my planned "thank you" statement, my national debut on NPR consisted of nothing but dead air?

Why me?
Bob took the phone and hung up quickly, assuming they'd call right back. During this time, I was banging my forehead against my wooden desk and saying, "Bob, Bob, Bob. Why do these things always happen to me?"

Before he could answer, the phone rang. Bob handed it to me. I could hear Dr. Gottlieb saying, "We have Saralee back on the line."

"What a way to start!" I said, now on the air.

Amazingly enough, I was able to respond pretty well to all of his questions about Gracie, and how blessed I was, and I think she was too, that she found her purpose in life, which was to selflessly take care of me. You might wonder why I agreed to be on the show.

I wanted to be on the show so that Gracie's courage would be remembered. She always thought of me as her hero. But she will always been mine. She put herself in harm's way by protecting me from traffic, from joggers, bikers and aggressive dogs. She would have given up her life for me. She has been my biggest fan and my greatest supporter, my lifeguard and guardian. Gracie was my champion, who would never, ever let fear stand in her way.

And so I've learned from her, neither will I.

Award-winning columnist, Saralee Perel, can be reached at sperel@saraleeperel.com or on her website, saraleeperel.com.

Saralee welcomes friends on Facebook. Please click "Like" on her new Facebook Fan Page titled, Saralee Perel Presents Gracie, My 4-Footed Coach.

Her novel Raw Nerves is now available as an e-book. To take a look at it on Amazon, please click here.

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

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

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on SCI Autobiogs or Biogs (PDF)

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

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on SCI Research (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on SCI Tutorial 101 (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on SCI Videos (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Deep Vein Thrombosis (PDF)

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 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 (PVA): Spinal Cord InjuryFor more detailed information on the clinical practice guidelines on respiratory management with spinal cord injury you can request booklets from the Paralyzed Veterans of America. These booklets also provide guidelines on proper weaning from a ventilator.

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.

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).

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.

The information provided in the Paralysis Resource Center was supported by Cooperative Agreement number 1U59DD000838-01 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Its contents are solely the responsibility of the Reeve Foundation and do not necessarily represent the official views of the CDC.