In April, UF Health Shands Rehab Hospital and the Center for Independent Living of North Central Florida hosted the inaugural photo voice project, “My life beyond the lens: Stories of spinal cord injuries” at the Historic Thomas Center. The event featured four visual storytellers who illustrated how they can still accomplish their goals
despite enduring a life-altering spinal cord injury.
“There is life beyond everything that happens to us,” said Mary Stevic, a quadriplegic and active advocate for those with spinal cord injuries throughout Florida and the U.S. “My passion is still being able to go out there and show other people that it’s possible to have meaningful experiences. By sharing our experiences, we see it helping others, and it ends up helping us as well.”
The event aspired to increase the awareness of disability within the Gainesville community. The storytellers provided glimpses into the thought process and motivation it took to accept their disabilities and embrace their current abilities.
Striking photos of the storytellers were displayed throughout a gallery for guests to admire prior to a slideshow presentation and panel discussion. Stevic and three other individuals with spinal cord injuries shared their stories during a Q&A session, where they answered questions regarding their journey to recovery and views on everyday life.
Despite her spinal injury sustained in a car accident in 2005, Stevic is an adventurous traveler at heart. She enjoys nature photography, camping and ATV riding. Alongside Stevic, the panel included Mark Brisbane and Cliff Deyampert, who are quadriplegics, and Dug Jones, who is paraplegic. Brisbane was injured in a diving accident when he was 17, Deyampert sustained a gunshot wound about two years ago and Jones suffered a serious injury in high school.
Like Stevic, the other panelists are proof that life can be lived to the fullest while adjusting to serious spinal injuries. Brisbane graduated from high school, learned how to drive and currently works at the Center for Independent Living of North Central Florida; Deyampert began driving again, attends weekly physical therapy sessions and is starting his own T-shirt company; and Jones is an athlete, community servant, father and associate vice president for economic development at Santa Fe College.
“People don’t always take the time to think about disabilities from a lifelong perspective,” said Lana Watson, M.H.S., OTR/L, UF Health Shands Rehab Services director. “If we just share what we are going through, it connects people in a genuine way where people feel the freedom to talk about deeper topics.”