Peer & Family Support Spotlight: LeeAnn Derwent and Angie Wells

Posted by Reeve Staff in Life After Paralysis on June 17, 2021 # Peer & Family Support Program

When LeeAnn Derwent met her husband, Steve, online in 2011, they quickly formed a connection. Injured on a spring break trip to Mexico when he was 20 years old, Steve had been living as a C3 quadriplegic for more than 20 years before the two married in 2013.

“It was scary getting into a relationship because I knew nothing about paralysis,” said Derwent. “Just like any marriage, you think you know what it will be like. It was a learning curve for both of us. Sometimes I handle the challenges well and sometimes I do not.”

Last spring, Derwent found herself in a deep rut.

“I felt very alone. I couldn’t find anyone who could relate to what I was feeling and experiencing,” said Derwent who lives in Columbus, Ohio. Steve suggested she get a mentor through the Reeve Foundation Peer & Family Support Program.

Derwent was connected with Angie Wells, a preschool teacher, and mom of three from Madison, GA, who knew firsthand the life-changing impact a mentor could provide. In 2018 Wells’ husband Milledge sustained a C5 incomplete injury with a minor pinch at C7 in a car accident. About a month after his injury, a friend of a friend on Facebook, whose husband sustained a spinal cord injury 10 years earlier, went to the hospital to visit the Wells family.

“Their visit was a turning point for us. For the first time, we felt like we would be fine. That everything would be ok,” says Wells. “They made everything seem so normal. I thought, if they can do this 10 years out, we can do it too. It was such a great relief.”

Wells became a mentor because she wanted to be able to help others as this friend had helped her.

“To have someone who’s been there say, ‘yes, I know what a bowel program is’ and ‘I to have learned how to do many things I never thought I could do or even wanted to,’ and ‘it’s not going to be this bad forever’ really helps,” said Wells. “It was a game-changer for me and if I can be a game-changer for others, that would be great.”

So far Derwent and Wells have spoken twice on the phone and the connection made a big impact.

“I felt very comfortable with her quickly. She gave me advice on UTIs [urinary tract infections] and travel tips and she encouraged me to let my family help more,” said Derwent. “It is good to know I have someone I can connect with whenever I need her. She is the only person in my life other than Steve who really understands what this is like.”

The relationship is just as beneficial for Wells.

“I remember my very well-meaning friends asking when Milledge would walk again and thinking, if that was all we had to worry about, this would be easy. There are so many other issues that most people just don’t understand,” said Wells. “SCI is so one step forward, three steps back. It can be hard not to get discouraged.”

Wells has mentored about a dozen people in the last year. “It is very therapeutic for me to try to use this experience for good by helping others. It’s ok if they just want to call me and cry. It makes me feel like Milledge’s injury wasn’t in vain.”

Now that Derwent has seen the benefits from connecting with Wells, she would definitely encourage others to do the same.

“Even if you think you are doing just fine, it is always nice to have one more friend in the world. Talking to someone and sharing experiences is a great way to spend an hour even if you don’t necessarily need it.”

Wells agrees.

“It’s not just about healing the injured person but healing the family. Anything you can do to talk to someone who has been there is so much better than going it alone,” said Wells. “Nothing will ever be the same, but it can get better if you let it. Mentors are there to help you make the best of it. You can do it.”

You can request a Peer & Family Support Program mentor at https://www.christopherreeve.org/get-support/get-a-peer-mentor

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.