What we can give to each other

Posted by Reeve Staff in Daily Dose on July 17, 2017 # Peer & Family Support Program Spotlight

The Peer & Family Support Program’s mentors establish long-term relationships with their peers that make a significant, even life-changing, difference in their lives. One such special relationship developed between mentor Ashley Barnes and her peer Brooke, both of whom are living with paralysis, creating a strong bond that has had a very meaningful impact on both women.

From stranger to mentor to great friend, 38-year-old Ashley has been by 20-year-old Brooke’s side for the past two years, giving advice and showing her how many things she is capable of, regardless of her injury.

“I’m on the Advisory Board at Baylor Institute for Rehabilitation for the spinal cord injury group and I met [Brooke] at one of our Christmas parties right after she had first been injured,” Ashley explains. “In the spinal cord injury community, there are not as many women versus men, and I just kind of gravitated towards her. To see a young person who has so many milestones to live, I wanted to take her under my wing and help.”

Ashley, having already experienced many of life’s biggest milestones, strove to connect with Brooke, who had yet to experience such things — that paralysis would inevitably affect. Ashley describes herself as being “real and raw.” By being transparent with her peers, Ashley is able to explain how their injuries do not inhibit them from achieving anything they put their mind to. It may be hard for people to open up after a trauma, but Ashley attests to the healing power of overcoming negative thoughts, even through the dark days. Talking to someone and finding the support system you need is sometimes all you need to move forward.

Ashley firmly believes that “If you can heal your mind, you can heal your body. We need to be open with ourselves and other people when trying to work through something like this. If you hide in your shell, you won't be able to help yourself or others.” Ashley made it a point to show Brooke that despite paralysis, “there are so many things you can do, and I’m grateful to help where I can, and I hope Brooke passes what I’ve taught her on to others.”

Now two years later, Brooke has become more confident and experienced one of life’s biggest milestones — getting married. Ashley attended the wedding and saw Brooke marry her fiancé, whose connection she describes as “such a pure love.”

"Ashley has been a huge inspiration to me. She's a special woman with a smile that is contagious,” said Brooke. “I'm thankful for everything she continues to do for me and all the encouragement she extends. She is a prime example of someone who has overcome the wheelchair and has made a testimony out of it."

The wedding was not only a celebration of the love between Brooke and her fiancé, it was also a testament to the strength of Ashley and Brooke’s relationship. Ashley saw firsthand how Brooke had accepted that her wheelchair does not define her in any way or take away from her beauty. In that emotional moment, Ashley truly witnessed how Brooke had grown into her own.

What Brooke may not realize, however, is how much she has affected Ashley’s life. Her resilience and strong nature continue to inspire Ashley as their friendship progresses. The two talk regularly and see each other for lunch from time to time. Brooke now has the support of a loving husband, but Ashley does not see their communication stopping any time soon.

“There’s still so much that we both can give each other. Brooke is still so young and being able to watch her grow is amazing. Before her wedding day, she was worried how she was going to look, and I kept telling her that these people are coming to see you because they love you. You are not any less beautiful because you are in that chair. It doesn’t define you,” said Ashley. “It tears me up a bit to see that she has finally grasped that thought and blossomed through this. She has been an inspiration to me, and I feel it's really been a blessing for both of us that we met.”

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The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.