In the summer of 2019, Lizzy Ragan fell while rock climbing in New Hampshire and experienced a severe spinal cord injury. After being rushed to a nearby intensive care unit, she was transferred to Spaulding Charlestown to begin her rehabilitation journey, with the ultimate goal of returning to her career and passions. It was a difficult undertaking, but Lizzy approached it with determination and focus — traits that have helped her get to where she is today.
Coming from an athletic background, Lizzy was motivated to conquer her rehab routine and get back to the activities she loved. At Spaulding, her physical therapists were behind her the entire way, developing a routine that supported those goals. “Melissa motivated me to lean into my rehab routine, but not to limit myself,” said Lizzy of one particularly supportive care team member. “She encouraged me to focus on getting back to living the life I desired.” It was this mentality that made the strongest impression on Lizzy.
When she began her rehabilitation, Lizzy’s goal was to return to work after a year of inpatient and outpatient therapy — but by early 2020 she was already back working at a local hospital during the height of the pandemic. As a person living with a spinal cord injury and experiencing firsthand the effects of the pandemic on people with disabilities, Lizzy doubled down on her interest in advocating for underserved populations. “If I can pave a path, my goal is to make it a little easier for the next person,” she says.
For Lizzy, part of being an advocate includes sharing her story and the challenges of the rehabilitation journey. Recognizing that parts of her recovery were out of her control, she believed it was important to keep perspective and have patience through the journey. “I had to allow myself to have the bad days and trust that I would progress when I was ready,” said Lizzy. “Sometimes when there’s a will, there’s not always a way.” Despite roadblocks, she kept looking forward. “I had to focus on figuring out how to have happiness with what I had,” said Lizzy. At Spaulding, she found her happiness through her art, completing two paintings during her treatment that now hang in the halls of Spaulding Charlestown.
Following her rehabilitation, Lizzy has been able to resume her active lifestyle through adaptive sports. “Adaptive sports gave me an instant community of people who shared the same aspirations as me,” she said. Along with the physical benefits of staying active, Lizzy believes that access to these programs is critical for people with disabilities to ease their transition into a new way of life and find the social connection that is so important for their health and well-being.
Today, Lizzy works as a White House Fellow in the Office of Science and Technology Policy focusing on pandemic response, a position she describes as her “why.” Despite only having a month to prepare her application, her fervor for advocacy and commitment to public service made her a natural fit for the role. Whether adapting through her rehabilitation journey or problem solving in the public health space, Lizzy’s unrelenting spirit has helped her find strength through every challenge she has faced.
Imagine the Possibilities
At a time when scientific advancements can help make the impossible possible, an investment in rehabilitation medicine has never been more necessary — or more promising.
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