TJ and I interviewing his classmate and friend, Mary Lauren Bailey and his Professor, Joe Farmer at The University of South Alabama in Mobile. *Brooke Helms Photography, Mobile
Since January - when Day Program at Shepherd Center came to an end, TJ hoped his application to Beyond Therapy would be accepted. Initiated in 2005, Beyond Therapy is yet another of Shepherd's boundary pushing programs. With facilities in Atlanta, GA and Franklin, TN, this rigorous program continually operates at full capacity - between 30 and 35 clients, each of whom receive some 9 to 15 hours of physical therapy a week. Yet with a perpetual waiting list of 50 names long, TJ knew it would be some time before getting in.
It was during his follow-up appointment at Shepherd Center in May that he learned a spot had opened for Beyond Therapy at the facility in Franklin, TN. Though it was a long way from Chatom - a little town in the pines of south Alabama, TJ knew he had potential to do more and wanted to keep going. Therefore, the following Monday, TJ, his mom, stepfather, teenage brother and 6-year-old sister made the seven hour trip to the hills of Tennessee.
Now, TJ had a "new goal to work on," to get better and stronger - both physically and emotionally.
His therapy began from the minute he arrived. In addition to Physical Therapy (PT) and Occupational Therapy (OT), he worked with specialists on strength-building and core exercises to help those muscles below the level of his injury recover and possibly demonstrate voluntary motor activity.
Going to therapy week after week, TJ learned that teaching his upper body muscles to control his lower extremities was an exhausting ordeal. But he never once gave up. The gradual improvement day after day is what made it all worthwhile. "It was the little things like pedaling a bicycle for a few seconds on my own that made me push harder the next day," he explained.
A huge milestone that TJ remembers about Beyond Therapy is the day he was able to crawl on the floor - with quite a bit of assistance, true, but he was moving forward. "It sounds funny to say it, but it was so exciting to move forward without the use of my wheelchair."
TJ thinks that, eventually, when the stem cells have had a chance to work their magic, he will regain function of his lower extremities and walk again. In the meantime, he wants to focus on earning his nursing degree and share his experience with those who want to hear it. "Sure I want to walk again, but I am not going to let this consume me," he says. "I will continue doing what my therapy team has suggested and take care of myself. But I also want to help others who are beginning their journey as a disabled person. I want to show them that it is possible to live a full, happy life, regardless the circumstances or disability."
Along with his studies, TJ wants to be a spokesperson for stem cell research. Based on all the available research and technology, he feels there is so much more that could be offered in medicine through the use of embryonic stem cell therapy.
Just in the past week, TJ has been reaching out to many people and organizations, and is excited to begin advocating for the science, hoping one day that he may even get the opportunity to address legislature and have his voice heard.
TJ, Mary Lauren and Joe.
He is upbeat about his future - both in returning to nursing school and being a voice for embryonic stem cell therapy. To learn more about TJ and the clinical trial he is participating in, click on the links below which include previous interviews and articles he has contributed to since revealing himself as THE HUMAN CANDIDATE: