Paying It Forward

Posted by Howard Menaker in Life After Paralysis on February 27, 2023 # Lifestyle

HowardIn past blogs, I have written a great deal about self-care. It is vitally important that we each take care of ourselves - our physical health, our mental health and our emotional health. I have also written about taking care of those who take care of us. Our caregivers are hard-working and caring individuals, and it is important that we show our appreciation for them in great measure.

But I want to open the lens a bit wider. All of us who have spinal cord injuries are part of a big, vital community. No one would choose to be in our situation, where walking, sitting up, and other activities that most people take for granted require a huge effort. But we are here. And beyond our own community of people with spinal cord injury is another community. A community deserving of our care, our affection, our thanks and our assistance.

I refer here to the large and essential community of doctors, occupational and physical therapists, nurses, technicians, assistants and others who work day after day after day to help us to stay healthy and to make progress as we fight back from our injuries. We may always think of them as the people who help us. But think for a moment about how to flip that upside down: How can we help them? What do they need that only we can provide?

HowardI was fortunate earlier this month to be asked by the team at the Kennedy Krieger Institute to help them train physical therapists from across the country in new technologies and new methods of therapy. I was truly honored and pleased that they asked me. There was no way these therapists could be trained if there were no patients to demonstrate the technology, no one to practice on. What a special opportunity! We all know that we can read and study all kinds of things, but until you have seen them or touched them in real life, they are just theories. I could help provide real-world training for therapists who will go on to help other patients with spinal cord injuries.

Helping the gracious and kind and smart people who help us is a gift – to them and to ourselves. Ask your doctors – do they need patients to help train other practitioners? Do they need blood samples to study? Do they need patients to participate in a blood pressure study of people with spinal cord injuries, or to help learn about the effects of new cutting-edge technologies? And don’t forget – operating hospitals and clinics is an expensive business. Would it help raise money for new equipment or to fund new staff if you told your success story at that institution? Can you speak before a group of donors, or give them a quote they can use in their fundraising letters? Can you work with the Reeve Foundation advocates writing a letter to your U.S. Senators and Representatives or state legislators, asking for their support for important legislation to fund research or treatment?

It is impossible to know what will help until our caregivers ask, or we ask them. So, speak up. Ask the question. There is no staff and no facility in the world that could not use our help. We are special. We are unique. If we pay it forward, we not only help the practitioners, but we also help others with spinal cord injuries.

Think about the good you can do, and also about how good you will feel when you see some new patient making progress in their recovery from working with a therapist, you helped train. Be proud of your role in this big, wonderful community of people with disabilities. No one else is you. And no one else but you can provide the important help that you can.

Howard Menaker is a retired communications and public affairs executive, with over 30 years of experience in international corporations and trade associations. Previously, he worked as an attorney, specializing in civil litigation. He now devotes much of his time serving on non-profit boards of directors, including a prominent theater company and a historic house museum in the Washington, DC area. He and his husband split their time between Washington and Rehoboth Beach, DE.

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.