This article was brought to us by Jerry Segal, the founder of the Jerry Segal Classic, which benefits patients at Magee Rehab in Philadelphia, Pa.
Family has always been important to me. But when I found myself somewhere I never thought I would be – wheelchair-bound with a spinal cord injury – their presence and support became even more needed. After my injury, I was sent to Magee Rehabilitation Hospital in Philadelphia – and let me tell you, they do not let you take it easy. I was in intense therapy for at least three hours every day. It was difficult and at times, frustrating.
One of the things I looked forward to every night was having dinner with my family. At this point after my injury, everything was new – this was one thing that hadn’t changed. One night, my wife Carolyn and I were having dinner in the hospital’s dining room. We were talking and enjoying one another’s company when she paused.
“Look around the room,” she said. “It shouldn’t be this way.”
I turned around and looked at all my fellow patients having their meals. Many of them were alone. Sure, they had each other. But they didn’t have their family. That thing that got me through every day, the solitary moment I looked forward to during even my worst days – breaking bread with my loved ones – they didn’t have that. How did they do it?
I turned back to Carolyn and asked why she thought more patients didn’t have their families with them. “Think of the expense,” she said. It’s true – having a spinal cord injury isn’t cheap. The equipment, the doctor’s visits, the medications – having any extra spending money to eat in the dining room was a luxury many didn’t have. Thank God I did.
When I left Magee, I was a different man than when I came in. I made a promise then and there that I would give back to the patients here, give them everything I could. I established a benefit golf tournament, known as the Jerry Segal Classic, to raise money for new patient programs at Magee.
After my experience in the dining room, I knew a big part of giving back was providing the opportunity to be with family. As such, one of the first programs we started with the funds raised in the Segal Classic was the Friends & Family Meal Program. So far, we have provided family members of patients with more than 50,000 free meals. That’s 50,000 times a patient didn’t have to eat alone. Fifty-thousand days they had something to look forward to.
Some years later, I came back to Magee to visit, as I regularly do. On this particular trip, I met a woman who was visiting her son who had sustained a spinal cord injury. She didn’t live in Philadelphia. She didn’t even live in Pennsylvania. She drove hours every day to see her son. She looked at me, eyelids sagging, and lamented how exhausted she was. “But he’s my only son,” she said with resolve. “I’m going to be here for him every day, no matter what it takes.”
I excused myself and made a couple phone calls. After a few moments away, I returned and told the woman I spoke to a friend of mine who owned a hotel, and we worked out a deal. She had a place to stay as long as her son was here, so she could be close to him and learn how to care for him when he returned home. The look on her face – and her son’s when he found out she was staying – made me want to do that for everyone, every day. So with the next batch of funds from the Segal Classic, we started the Segal Housing Fund. The fund subsidizes guest housing at the Windsor Hotel and enables family members of patients who live far away to stay near their loved ones during rehabilitation and learn how to care for the patients when they return home. Needless to say, it gets a lot of use.
While all of the programs and services we have helped fund are special to me, these family programs hold an important place in my heart – and my wife’s. I know I would not have had the recovery I did were it not for her constant presence, love and support. My goal with these programs is to give everyone that opportunity.
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