​Peer & Family Support Spotlight: ​Sheila Shea and Cinda Sterner

Posted by Reeve Staff in Life After Paralysis on January 24, 2022 # Peer & Family Support Program Spotlight

Sheila and Cinda together outside. They are both using wheelchairs and smiling.Some days it may feel like divine fate or good luck brought Sheila Shea and Cinda Sterner together. Their deep bond seems to transcend the two years since they met through the Reeve Foundation Peer & Family Support Program.

“I was at a point in my life where I didn’t think I had much to offer,” says Shea, who sustained a C4-C5 level injury in a 2016 car accident. “Then I got referred to be a mentor to Cinda, and my whole world changed. Someone out there needed me, and nothing has been the same since. I have a purpose. I have meaning.”

Since their first connection on Facebook Messenger, not a day goes by when the two aren’t chatting.

“We message first thing in the morning and the last thing at night. Silly or sad, there is always banter, and we can always tell when there is something going on,” says Shea. “There’s a ‘how’s your day going?’ and then we say ‘truth’ when we can sense a problem.”

Sterner feels the same, “We can read each other just by texting. It is sort of weird how you can read someone without even talking to them. She feels more like a sister than a mentor. I can talk to her about anything.”

While they were very happy with their daily messages and occasional FaceTime calls, they often talked about what it would be like to meet in person. Sterner lives about two hours outside Pittsburgh, an eight-hour drive from Shea’s home in Massachusetts. Both had limited experiences with extended car rides and the impact they might feel after a long trip.

Yet the devoted friends were determined to develop a plan. Initially, they decided to meet halfway, but after a trial four-hour road trip to New Jersey, Shea felt unable to make her part of the drive. So Sterner agreed to make the entire trip to Shea.

“I was nervous and excited, but more than anything, I just wanted to see her in person,” says Sterner, who sustained a C5-C6 incomplete injury after a fall down her basement stairs in 2016. “I wasn’t sure I could make it either, but I had to try.”

Sheila and Cinda together. They are both using wheelchairs and sharing a drink.Sterner’s sister and good friend joined her for the road trip, which included two overnight hotel stays, one on the way there and another on the way back.

“You never know what you will get when you stay at a hotel. Just because they say it is handicapped accessible doesn’t mean it is accessible to you,” says Sterner.

When they arrived, the reward was certainly worth the effort.

“We had a great celebration — champagne, cheese and crackers, and sandwiches,” says Shea. “It was quite a lively group. Cinda and I got to talk on our own and it was also nice for our sisters and friends to meet. I had such a mix of emotions meeting her, many hugs and happy tears.”

The two chatted and toured Shea’s garden during the four hours Sterner spent at Shea’s house. Over the years, Sterner had sent Shea several gifts and painted stones that Shea proudly displayed and cherished.

“One of the stones Cinda painted for me says ‘stay positive,’ and I put whatever it is that’s important that I’m working on under that rock,” says Shea. “Cinda is all around me, in the painted rocks, the windchime she gave me to go with my plants, and the Charlie Brown Christmas tree she sent last year because I’m such a grinch.”

During the visit, the friends also said a toast to the Reeve Foundation. They later learned that the day they met was also Christopher Reeve’s birthday.

“It was worth every mile and every small challenge to meet Sheila in person finally,” says Sterner. “I would most definitely do it again, or I would love for her to come here.”

In the meantime, the daily chatter and special friendship continue.

“I could never have imagined how much this experience with the Reeve Foundation would influence my life,” says Shea. “As a mentor, I’ve met so many people from all different backgrounds. And while the stories are all as varied as the human experience, we all have a connection point in spinal cord injury.”

Sterner agrees. “Anyone who has the opportunity to be a peer, or a mentor should take it no matter what,” says Sterner. “Why wouldn’t you? It is truly one of the best things you can do for yourself and someone else.”

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.