From Tragedy to Triumph

Bringing hope and independence to those with spinal cord injuries

Spinal cord injuries can happen to anyone at any time. Learning to cope with losing one’s independence and then working to gain some of 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 Cheshire Home Marketing & Event Manager, Betsey Burgdorf. “They had jobs, drove cars, cared for their families, and then a tragic event occurred leaving them in a wheelchair sometimes 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 a landscaper who fell out of a tree, and residents who have been in car or motorcycle accidents. We also have residents with genetic issues such as spina bifida and lupus.”

Cheshire Home strives to meet the needs of all its residents, mostly young adults, who suffer from spinal cord injuries, and/or neurological impairments. Its staff works tirelessly to help residents reclaim their independence so they can leave the facility and rejoin the community.

“We are a transitional facility, which means residents are here while they recover,” says Betsey. “We focus on teaching residents skills they will need in order to regain their independence.” This can take up to on average two-three years, sometimes longer.

Cheshire Home offers 24/7 nursing care, experts specializing in spinal cord and neurological impairments, and on-site physical and occupational therapy and more. “We work with residents on their goals, such as gaining muscle strength, and hand movement,” she says. “There is always a plan in place, and when setbacks occur, adjustments are made to keep the resident on track.” Some residents who had limited or no use of their arms and hands have regained function by the time they leave, which is seen as a huge success.

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 almost ended up in a nursing home. His family was relieved when a bed opened and he came here instead. He moved out after about 3 years at Cheshire Home, 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 do not even notice.

Everyday operating costs for these specialized services do not come cheap, so the nonprofit holds many fundraisers, such as 5K races, Cheshire Has Talent, and a paper shred, to provide the care the residents need to reach their goals. Their upcoming 40th Anniversary Gala fundraiser being held on Thursday, November 10, at the Park Avenue Club in Florham Park, will be an inspirational evening with dinner, dancing and motivational speakers.

The Gala’s Master of Ceremonies will be Senator Jon M. Bramnick, and four deserving honorees, including Senator Declan O’Scanlon, Jr., who will be speaking about their support of those with spinal cord injuries. Tickets are available now at cheshirehome.org/gala. 

To find out more about Cheshire Home and how to help support its mission, go to cheshirehome.org/.

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