Peer & Family Support Spotlight: Lea Goad and Jose Santos

Posted by Reeve Staff in Life After Paralysis on July 16, 2021 # Peer & Family Support Program

Lea GoadLike so many, Lea Goad had to find ways to pivot her work during the pandemic. A recreation therapist at Baylor Scott & White Institute for Rehabilitation in Dallas, Texas, Goad is part of the spinal cord injury team and works to help people adapt the fun and relaxing activities they enjoyed before their injury to their new functionality. She also helps them prepare for community reintegration.

“Pre-COVID, we offered in-person education classes, community outings, support groups and mentorship programs,” says Goad. “Going virtual had its challenges initially, but it also enabled us to have people demonstrate vehicle transfers, using assistive technology in the home environment, eating in a restaurant and other skills via Zoom. This proved to be really beneficial at a time when classroom discussion and individual peer visits or outings were limited.”

In the last year, Goad has also seen an increase in patients who only speak Spanish. None of the peer mentors Goad works with locally speaking Spanish fluently.

“Sustaining a spinal cord injury creates challenges for people physically and functionally, as well as in their ability to understand their new circumstances. Language barriers can pose additional difficulties,” says Goad.

Goad has lived with a C7 spinal cord injury for 23 years and understands firsthand the importance of having a mentor.

“Two mentors changed my life. One day it just all hit me at once, and I thought, ‘I can’t do this,’” says Goad. “Coincidentally, I met one of my mentors that same day. She motivated me to push through my challenges and provided insight to techniques for independence. I remember what she taught me, and now I teach it to others.”

In 2013, Goad helped facilitate a Reeve Foundation Peer & Family Support Program partnership for her institution. As a result, more than 36 local mentors have been trained and certified by the Reeve Foundation. Goad also has access to a national network of certified mentors she can use to find the best match for local patients who need support. That’s how she was connected with Jose Santos, who is a native Spanish speaker.

“Although Jose lives a time zone away, he has connected with two of our patients so far,” says Goad. “He is so great to work with, and patients have said that they appreciate his time. Jose shares valuable insight to coping after a spinal cord injury, managing bowel, bladder and the potential of physical progression post-SCI. Connecting with him has certainly helped.”

Jose Santos

For Santos, the opportunity to help others is extremely rewarding.

“Helping others gives me gratitude. It motivates me to live life and reminds me that SCI is not the end of the world. It feels good to help others,” says Santos who is living with a T5-T6 incomplete injury from a 2013 car accident. “It can be hard to find a community that makes life feel normal again. The mentor program certainly helps with that.”

After his accident, Santos spent several years in outpatient physical therapy at Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colorado. He regained his ability to walk using a cane and forearm crutches. A couple of years ago, Santos met his own mentor, an able-bodied chiropractor who works to help people living with SCI lead a more fulfilling life. He has inspired Santos, who, in turn, inspires others.

“It is a different way of life now,” says Santos. “But I feel like the whole thing happened for a reason; it helps me get through my stuff by helping others. I know I’m where I’m supposed to be. It is a journey, and mentoring helps me push through it.”

Jose Santos

Over the past couple of years, Santos has mentored a half dozen Spanish-speaking peers across the country. He often sends them Reeve Foundation resources for support.

Goad also shares many of the Reeve Foundation’s health and wellness booklets, as well as the Paralysis Resource Guide, with her patients. She uses the Reeve Foundation website to stay up to date on the latest information available for people living with a spinal cord injury.

Recently, Goad set up mentoring calls for two couples at the same time so a patient and his wife could speak with a husband and wife mentoring team.

“Mentors for family members are very helpful too,” says Goad. “It is really rewarding to see so many types of connections made, and you know they will make it through.”

Santos agrees.

“Mentoring reassures me that I am doing something more meaningful now because of my accident,” says Santos. “Service is where it’s at. Love is all there is, and the best way to show love is service for others.”

You can request a Peer & Family Support Program mentor here.

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.