Bringing hope and independence to those with spinal cord injuries
By Sue Baldani
Spinal cord injuries can happen to anyone at any time. Learning to cope with losing one’s independence and then gaining it back takes a lot of hard work and perseverance. Cheshire Home in Florham Park has been providing services to support these journeys since it opened its doors in 1981.
“I don’t think people realize that most of our residents were living normal lives before their accidents,” says marketing associate, Betsey Burgdorf. “They had jobs, drove cars, cared for their families, and then a tragic event occurred and now they’re in a wheelchair for the rest of their lives. It has a dramatic effect on the individual, the family, and the community.”
Spinal cord injuries, she says, can happen in numerous ways. “We have two residents who dove into the surf at Long Beach Island, hit sandbars and broke their necks. We have landscapers who fell out of trees or people who have been in car accidents. We also have residents with genetic issues such as spina bifida and others with lupus.”
Cheshire meets the needs of many patients, especially younger ones, who are suffering from not only spinal cord injuries but neurological impairments as well. Its staff works tirelessly to help residents leave its facility and rejoin their communities.
“We focus on being a transitional facility, which means patients are only here while they recover, although we do have some long term patients who have been here from the beginning,” says Betsey. “But we’re really focusing on teaching them what they need in order to regain their independence.” This can take up to three years or more.
The facility offers 24/7 care, an expert nursing care specialized in spinal cord and neurological treatments, and on-site physical and occupational therapy. “We work with residents on their goals, whatever their goals are,” she says. “There is always a plan in place, but it’s affected by motivation and medical setbacks, which sometimes happen.” Some patients who had limited or no use of their arms and hands have actually regained function by the time they leave, which is huge.
Having these types of resources, explains Betsey, is one of the main reasons why Cheshire Home is so successful. “We had one gentleman who was involved in a car crash in his early twenties and kind of bounced around. He was almost put into a nursing home, but because he was so young, he ended up here instead. He moved out about a year and a half ago, and now lives in Madison and has a full time job. He’s really one of our great success stories.”
She said one of the biggest obstacles to integrating people back into the community is wheelchair accessible accommodations. “With the disability laws, things have gotten easier, but there are still a lot of barriers.” For example, curbs and steps in front of businesses are often insurmountable and things most able-bodied people don’t even notice.
Everyday operating costs and these extraordinary services do not come cheap, so the nonprofit offers many fundraisers, such as 5K races and other events, to help residents reach their goals. A fun one is their upcoming 40th Anniversary Gala being held on Thursday, November 10, at the Park Avenue Club in Florham Park.
“There’ll be a dinner, a DJ, a live auction, a slideshow and more,” says Betsey. Master of Ceremonies will be Senator Jon M. Bramnick, and four honorees, including Senator Declan O’Scanlon, Jr., will be speaking about their support of those with spinal cord injuries. Tickets are available now on its website.
To find out more about Cheshire Home and how to help support its mission, go to https://cheshirehome.org/.
Written for Chatham & Short Hills Lifestyle magazine in New Jersey.