Newburgh – Like many professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic, Hanna Sheppard of Brookhaven, N.Y. wakes up each morning and goes to work virtually – in her case, as a Client Services associate for Morgan Stanley. But Sheppard, a 2016 graduate of Mount Saint Mary College, took an extraordinary path to her seemingly ordinary life.
About 14 years ago, Sheppard dove into her pool from the middle, expecting to coast along the slanted floor to the deep end. Instead, she hit the concrete head-on and cracked her C5 vertebra in half. Were it not for her younger brother, she would have drowned. When doctors saw the first x-rays, they were not very hopeful. For months, it seemed that Sheppard’s autonomy had been left in the depths. But as her family, coworkers, and Mount friends can tell you, the accident was just a new beginning for the determined young woman. Some of Sheppard’s right hand and right leg remain partially paralyzed, but it’s become less of an obstacle and more of an inconvenience over the years. As a freshmen in 2012, she walked to class aided by crutches. As a senior in 2016, she walked across the commencement stage unaided. Today, she can be found working out at her local gym on her own. While it’s certainly a big part of her life, Sheppard’s injury does not define who she is.“My spinal cord injury doesn’t affect the big picture,” Sheppard noted. “It affects my everyday life – it’s hard to walk, it’s hard to do everything, but I still do it.” Recently she had been advocating for spinal cord injury awareness, including serving as an ambassador for The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation.
About a year ago, Sheppard reconnected with Lawrence T. Force, a Psychology professor at the Mount and director of the college’s Center on Aging and Disability Policy. Force’s son, Patrick, suffered a spinal cord injury in 2019. In response, the Force Recovery Foundation was created to be present for individuals and family members on the spinal cord recovery path through the implementation of “Transformational Care” – that is, compassionate family support, knowledge-based advocacy, and innovative medical interventions. The foundation can be found online at www.theforcerecovery.com
CAPTION 1 and 2 (2016): About 14 years ago, Hanna Sheppard suffered a major spinal injury. When she began taking classes at the Mount in 2012, she walked using a pair of crutches. At Mount Saint Mary College’s 53rd annual Commencement, she walked across the stage unaided. Photo by Lee Ferris.