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Spinal Cord Injury Paralysis Resource Center

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Healing a Wounded Heart


Saralee's dog, Gracie

By Saralee Perel

I'm finally beginning to recover from the loss of our dog, Gracie. She died in October. A vet said, "Remember the good times and she'll always be with you."

Well, that's easier said than done. All I've thought about was her ending ... until now.

Ever since my spinal cord injury, Gracie became my guardian. She would have given up her life for me by blocking cars I hadn't seen or bikers or aggressive dogs. Because of her help, I defied medical opinions and learned to walk again, making it to 10 miles. She truly was my saving Grace.

During her last months, she'd get confused wandering in our backyard. She wasn't afraid because I'd be by her side -- the same way she had been by mine. The feel of my hand on her golden forehead always grounded her in safety and love.

One Sunday evening, her body went into a complete paralysis. A loving veterinarian named Gayle came to our home.

Knowing how upset Gracie would get when I'd cry, I would not let her spend her final minutes worrying about me. It was a far greater accomplishment to not cry at that moment, than it was to have ever walked 10 miles.

As Gayle administered the medications that would end her mortal life, I was on the floor in front of Gracie's beautiful face so that my face would be the last thing she'd see.

The last thing she heard was my voice, quietly singing a final version of our song.

Amazing Grace, how sweet you've been.
You saved and strengthened me.
I once was lost, but now I'm found.
And you are safe right here ... with me.

For one more time, the feel of my hand on her golden forehead grounded her in safety and love.

That night a friend from the foundation said, "Gracie helped you to end your paralysis. Today you have done what you needed to do to help her end hers."

I've wondered, "Was having her worth the anguish of losing her?"

After my pal, John, lost his dog, I asked, "Are you still glad you had Clancy?"

He said, even through tears, "I wouldn't have missed a minute."

So, how do I come to terms with losing Gracie? Hearing those words from John and others helps me. It also helps to realize that my sadness is so deep because it is in direct proportion to the depth of my love for her.

A pain-free loveless existence would feel flat. What is a life without love?

As a dear friend wrote, "I know that the moment Gracie died was one of great love and hurt and conflict for you. She shared your pain and you shared hers as she grew older and less able, but no less willing, to help you. Her pain is gone, but like a song in the room, her love and yours will linger on forever."


Cracked Nuts

About Saralee
Award-Winning columnist, Saralee Perel, has a new book hot off the press: Cracked Nuts & Sentimental Journeys: Stories From a Life Out of Balance. Read about her challenges after her SCI, stories of her caregiver dog, and her human family too.

For more information, please visit her website: SaraleePerel.com.

Saralee is also on Facebook. Visit her page, Saralee Perel Presents Gracie, My 4-Footed Coach.

Agency for Health Care Research and QualityOffers information on antidepressants, especially on various side effects.

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)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Depression (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Service Animals (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)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Mindfullness (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on New Injury Top 10 Questions (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Umbilical Cord Blood Banking (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.

Assistance Dogs InternationalA coalition of not for profit organizations that train and place assistance dogs.

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.

Canine Companions for IndependenceA national network of highly-trained assistance dogs and ongoing support.

Center for Research on Women with Disabilities (CROWD)Dept of Physical Medicine and Rehab Services at Baylor College of Medicine.

Consortium for Spinal Cord Medicine, Clinical Practice GuidelinesThe Guidelines, available at no cost from the Paralyzed Veterans of America, are targeted to professionals. A consumer version is also available: Depression After Spinal Cord Injury, What You Should Know.

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

Helping HandsProvide highly trained monkeys to assist people with severe spinal cord injuries or mobility-impairments.

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.

Mobile WomenArticles, resources, online forum for women with disabilities especially wheelchair users.

Loving Paws Assistance DogsSpecializes in placing assistance dogs with children who are spinal cord injured as well as children with Muscular Dystrophy, Cerebral Palsy, and Spina Bifida.

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 Suicide Prevention LifelineNational Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a 24-hour, toll-free suicide prevention service available to anyone in suicidal crisis. If you need help, dial 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

National Library of MedicineDiscussion of depression and treatment options.

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.

Owner Trained Assistance DogsAn email discussion list for those who train their own assistance dogs.

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.

The Spinal Cord Injury Information Network: DepressionResources and materials related to depression.

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.

Top DogOffers assistance in training your own dog to be a service dog. They sell a book and video on the topic also.

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.

University of Washington/Department of Rehabilitation MedicineOffers a series of pamphlets: Staying Healthy after a Spinal Cord Injury; depression is covered.

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.

  • Email our Paralysis Information Specialists
  • Call our Paralysis Information Specialists
  • Call our Paralysis Information Specialists
  • Newly paralyzed or spinal cord injured? Start here.
Find Resources in Your Area

Check out programs in your area on our one-of-a kind online searchable Quality of Life program database. You can search by location or topic. GO


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.