A former teacher turned research assistant who also blogs about wheelchair life and serves as president of the Northeast Ohio Chapter of United Spinal Association, Megan Hammond is dedicated to helping people find the resources they need after a spinal cord injury.
Hammond got involved with peer support through United Spinal right out of rehab, when she started attending the local chapter’s meetings. “My dad and I were making trips every month, and I met all kinds of people through those meetings,” she says. She enjoyed the community so much that she started helping at events. She eventually took on a leadership role in the chapter and now serves as president. “The more involved I got with that chapter, the more I realized that I had this passion for helping others with spinal cord injuries get out into the community,” she says.
Informing people about SCI, both the general public and those already living with paralysis, is a big part of the Northeast Ohio chapter’s mission. Every month the chapter has a different speaker come in, with recent topics ranging from SCI-specific dietary considerations to catheter options to resources for home modification. The educational focus isn’t surprising, given Hammond’s background.
She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in middle grades education in 2006, and worked as a long-term substitute teacher before going back to school for a master’s in special education. While in her master’s program, Hammond had a motorcycle accident that resulted in a T4 SCI. Within four months of her accident, she was back working part time. “I’ve never been the type to just sit around,” she says. “After two months I needed to do something. It gave me a way to get out of the house and kind of get back to normal.”
Today, Hammond’s passion for supporting people with SCI manifests in a variety of ways. She recently changed careers, and now works as a research assistant on the Spinal Cord Injury Model System grant at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio. She is focused on researching and developing systems across a variety of fields to better serve the needs of the SCI community. Her favorite part of the job is talking with other people with SCI, whether they’re new to their injuries or many years post injury, “just finding out the different stories and how different people have coped,” she says. The basics, like support, equipment, proper medical care and advice are essential for managing post SCI life, but Hammond says she also sees a common attitude among those who cope well with the challenges of living with paralysis, “It mostly has to do with a having a positive mindset.”
The power of positivity is something Hammond firmly believes in. Her blog, The Wheel Life, originally started as a way of sharing practical tips and tricks for living with SCI, “everyday functional things,” she says, “like how I get my big trash and recycle canisters to the curb.” (Hint: the containers roll and maneuver better if you tilt them back and rest the handle on your knees, then you have both hands free to wheel them where you need.) But lately, the blog has expanded to also include topics like goal setting and using positivity for practical purposes. “Whether it’s the battle of the bladder issues or people staring at you in public or talking down to you because they think you can’t talk, it’s all about developing how you react to it,” she says. Instead of just getting upset, “you can turn somebody talking down to you into an educational opportunity for them. Because most of the time, it’s coming from them just not being around someone with a disability before.”
About four years ago, Hammond found herself in a serious funk. Depressed and overweight, everyday tasks such as transferring and showering were becoming increasingly difficult. Tired of straining through life, she decided to make a change.
I started going to group exercise classes at my local gym. It wasn’t anything geared towards wheelchair users at all, but the instructors that I worked with have grown with me, and we have figured out what I can do and what I can push myself to try to do — how to get stronger with different exercises that helped me build muscle and lose weight.
I love Zumba. Dancing and singing a few days a week is just fun. It’s not like you’re really working out, but you’re still getting a great workout.
I also started researching nutrition, learning about how carbs, proteins, and fats affect your body. I think that it’s helped me improve my mindset with nutrition. Emotional eating is so real and is a daily struggle. But knowing how things affect my body helped me change the way I ate and the way I looked at food. I’m still not where I want to be, but I know I’m working toward it.
Chair of choice:
I’m on my second TiLite. My previous chair was another brand, but I decided to go back to a Ti¬Lite because it just seems a little bit more comfortable and functional
Tip for newbies:
Stay positive and keep trying. Not everything will work, but if you try enough things then something will work.
Why I joined United Spinal:
I started going to our meetings right out of rehab and wanted to know how I could make my new life work for me. I still learn those things, plus, now that I’m a chapter leader I get the sense of pride and fulfillment of helping others.