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Spinal Cord Injury Paralysis Resource Center

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Helping Hands Aid My Voyage

Saralee went kayaking

Saralee's kayak adventure

By Saralee Perel

After my spinal cord injury, I nearly gave up kayaking even though I could still use my arms. My husband, Bob, and I used to go so frequently that we planned our work schedules around the tides. We bought wet suits so we could go all year long. (Though I have to add that in my wet suit, I look like the Michelin Tire Man with breasts.)

Even though I tried several years ago, I've been afraid to try again. But recently I forced myself. We took our two-person kayak to a beach near our home on Cape Cod.

On the shore, with the kayak in the water, Bob held it steady while I tried to get in. I have no balance and my legs don't work well. I was using my cane, but each time I put one foot in the boat, I started to fall. Finally I said, "I can't do this."

Although I've never been a believer in angels, at that very moment I met my first two: Carol and Barbara.

As if she knew all about me, from my physical disabilities to my self-imposed emotional ones, Carol came right over and put her arms around my waist while Barbara said, "Don't give up. You can do it."

"Put your foot here," Carol said, guiding my left foot into the boat. Although my arms were shaking fiercely from grasping the sides of the kayak, that did not discourage these wondrous women. Literally come hell or high water, they were determined to get me into that boat.

When I finally made it, I raised my paddle with both arms and shouted my victory cry: "YAY!"

When Bob and I headed onward to the beautiful sea, I turned around to thank my angels. But they were gone, never to be seen by me again.

I am writing this story in honor of Bob's birthday. He's of an age when it's time for me to emphasize what matters the most. But I shouldn't wait for a specific day to express myself, not only to my husband but to all my lifelines, most of whom don't even know they hold that place in my heart. And most of whom are hopefully reading this story.

We've always listened to recordings of our favorite songs while we kayaked. On that glorious day on Cape Cod Bay, my gratitude was expressed in a song from "Dirty Dancing."

Now I've had the time of my life.
And I've searched through every open door.
Till I found the truth.
And I owe it all to you.

To Bob, Barbara and Carol, and to all the helping hands in my life: I couldn't have made so many life-affirming changes without you.

And so, kayaking was frightening but vital for me to do. For your moments of deepest fears, I bet Barbara and Carol will be there in spirit behind you. I hope you'll hear the echo of their words: "Don't give up. You can do it."

I did.

Happy Birthday, Bob.

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.

American Horticultural Therapy AssociationHorticultural therapy (HT) is not only an emerging profession, it is a time-proven practice. The therapeutic benefits of peaceful garden environments have been understood since ancient times. In the 19th century, Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and considered to be the "Father of American Psychiatry," reported that garden settings held curative effects for people with mental illness.

Dowling Community Garden: Building Accessible Raised-Bed GardensFunding for the wheelchair accessible beds was provided by the Longfellow Community Council Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP). NRP funds paid for the materials and all labor was provided by Dowling gardeners. If you are a wheelchair gardener or know a wheelchair gardener who would be interested in gardening at Dowling, please call the Dowling Community Garden voice mail at (651) 255-6607.

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 Gardening for People with Disabilities (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Hunting for People with Disabilities (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 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.

Challenged AmericaThe Challenged America program is dedicated to introduce sailing as a therapeutic and rehabilitative enhancing activity to individuals with disabilities, their loved ones, and professionals in healthcare and rehabilitation.

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.

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

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

eHow: How to Make a Wheelchair/Scooter Accessible Raised Garden BedHow to build an accessible raised bed garden from inexpensive, easily obtained materials. This is a thoughtful, enriching and enabling gift for the elderly, disabled and arthritic individuals.

E Nasco: CelluGro™ Wheelchair Accessible Green Thumb Therapy GardenDesigned by a horticultural therapist, this makes it possible for anyone who may not be able to do traditional gardening to be active gardeners.

Flaghouse: Gardening ProductsTo enhance the quality of life for all people, with resources for physical activity, recreation, therapy, and the development and support of life skills.

Friends Hospital: Adaptive Gardening to Meet Your Changing NeedsGardening is one of our most popular national pastimes. Horticulture can be enjoyed by almost everyone, whether young or old, weak or strong, able-bodied or handicapped. Gardening can be a vigorous activity or a sedentary one. As you grow older or your physical abilities change, there is no need for you to stop gardening. Gardens and tools may be modified to help ease stress and strain and allow you to continue to participate in one of the best leisure activities.

Gardener's Supply Co.Disability Opens New Doors for a Lifelong Gardener .

Infinitec: Enabling Gardens This section demonstrates accessible ways to garden, but please consult general gardening resources for help with soil preparation, planting, fertilizing, mulching, pruning, etc.

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.

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

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).

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.