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WED 25 OCT // 8:30 AM – 12:30 PM

Primary Content Focus: Spinal Cord Injury

Secondary Content Focus: Clinical Practice (assessment, diagnosis, treatment, knowledge translation/EBP, implementation science, program development)

We will summarize research results validating the importance of peer mentorship and initiate discussion with participants on translating research findings into actionable items to impact current practice. We will introduce participants to our peer support team who will describe our translation of research into practice. Clinicians and an administrator will provide feedback on how peer involvement augments clinical care. Participants brainstorm ideas about using peers to supplement care provision in home environments and be provided with a course reference list that contains links for accessing peer-developed educational materials and video productions that could be used assist in program development.


  1. Understand the value of integrating peers into rehabilitation care from patient, clinician, and administrative perspectives
  2. Learn how peer support can facilitate the uptake of skills training provided by therapists and nurses
  3. Realize the importance of organizational support for beginning and maintaining a peer support program
  4. Conceptualize take-home ideas for how to enhance peer support opportunities in your home institutions


Julie Gassaway, MS, RN
Shepherd Center

Minna Hong
Shepherd Center

Pete Anziano
Shepherd Center

Karen DeVault
Shepherd Center

Zachary Bradley
Shepherd Center

Gary Ulicny, PhD
Shepherd Center

Shanna Thorpe, CTRS
Shepherd Center

Jennifer Roane, OT
Shepherd Center


Julie Gassaway

Ms. Julie Gassaway is the Director of Health and Wellness Research and a senior clinical research scientist at the Virginia C. Crawford Research Institute at Shepherd Center in Atlanta, GA. Julie has been involved in clinical outcomes research for over 25 years; the past 10 have focused on physical rehabilitation. Research interests revolve around improving the transition process from acute rehabilitation to home environments. Current efforts focus on patient centered care management and research for persons with disabilities. She serves as a co-investigator on a Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute grant in which she leads development and implementation efforts for the patient-owned engagement portal as well as randomized clinical trials that demonstrated the value of peer mentorship to decrease reliance on the healthcare system and increase persons’ sense of self efficacy. Julie presents research findings at many national rehabilitation conferences, has authored over 60 peer-reviewed publications and serves as a reviewer and occasional guest editor for several rehabilitation journals.

Ms. Minna Hong was in car accident in 1999 that resulted in T-12 L-1 paralysis. She became a widow and single mother of 2 young children. She has been the SCI peer support manager for Shepherd Center for over 14 years and is a proactive peer support professional with expertise in developing and managing the execution of physical rehabilitation programs that aim to enhance patients’ quality of life and decrease secondary complications and re-hospitalization. She is acknowledged in the business, education and healthcare communities as a leading expert in spinal cord injury rehabilitation: conducts presentations at local universities, businesses and professional conferences such as The South Carolina Spinal Cord Injury Conference and Through the Looking Glass; contributes stories and story ideas to Spinal Column and is a community editing partner of New Mobility magazine; and serves as an advisory board member on disabilities for Delta Air Lines.


Mr. Pete Anziano is the lead peer support liaison and instructional designer in the SCI peer support program at Shepherd Center. Pete was involved in a motorcycle accident in 2004 that resulted in a T-12 AIS A spinal injury. For the past 10 years, Pete has worked in acute, post-acute and community settings, sharing knowledge with people new to SCI or just looking for specific insight. Pete assists in Peer Support program development, oversees selection and training of other mentors, matches patients and family members with appropriate mentors, and plans/supports annual community events sponsored by the department. He also co-treats with nurse educators, therapists, and exercise specialists at Shepherd Center. He participants actively in research projects that involve patient-centered care and peer involvement. Pete also conducts presentations about life with disability at local universities for graduate and doctoral students preparing to enter careers as Occupational and Physical Therapists; most recently delivering the commencement address for the DPT program at Georgia State University.


Karen DeVault was injured in a diving accident 18 years ago at age 13 (C6, AIS B). She has been working as a peer support liaison and research assistant at Shepherd Center for approximately three years and is responsible for introducing Shepherd patients to the peer support program and enrolling patients into research protocols. She specializes in mentoring persons with cervical injuries and their family members and demonstrating possibilities of independent living. She also recruits and trains volunteer mentors on appropriate conduct/interactions with Shepherd patients and content delivery. Outside of Shepherd, she works for a local children’s non-profit organization as a grant writer, executive administrative assistant and project manager of their annual fundraiser. She has lectured first year medical students at Emory School of Medicine for the past 7 years.


Mr. Zachary Bradley is a peer support liaison in the SCI peer support program at Shepherd Center. Zac was injured in a severe thunderstorm in 2011 that caused a tree to fall on his car resulting in a C-7 AIS A spinal injury. During the past 6 years, Zac obtained his bachelor’s degree and he is now working on his master’s degree in clinical rehabilitation counseling. He contributes a unique dynamic education perspective to the peer support program at Shepherd. One of his primary roles is assisting current patients in the preparation to transition back to school. In addition, as a manual wheelchair user with tetraplegia, Zac co-treats with nurse educators, therapists, and exercise specialists to demonstrate mobility opportunities to patients with tetraplegia. Furthermore, Zac has been awarded many opportunities to speak with occupational, physical, and recreation therapy students, as well as adolescents, about life after a spinal cord injury, the importance of setting goals, and overcoming adversity.


Gary Ulicny Speaking

Dr. Gary Ulicny has been involved in medical administration for over 30 years. Since 1994, he has served as the President and CEO of Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Georgia, a 152-bed hospital that specializes in the treatment of persons with spinal cord injuries, brain injuries, and other neuromuscular disorders. During Dr. Ulicny’s tenure, Shepherd Center has for 14 years been ranked in US News & World Report as one of the best rehabilitation hospitals in the nation, been presented with the Edward Loveland Award for Distinguished Contributions in Healthcare by the American College of Physicians, selected as the Hospital of The Year by the Georgia Alliance of Hospitals, and named one of Atlanta’s Best Employers by the Atlanta Business Chronicle, and Atlanta magazine. In addition, Shepherd Center has enjoyed model systems designation, both for spinal cord and brain injuries by the National Institute on Disability, Rehabilitation and Research. Dr. Ulicny received the Atlanta Business Chronicle’s Lifetime Achievement Award for contributions to healthcare and was elected as a Fellow of the American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine.  He received his PhD in behavioral psychology from the University of Kansas in 1986. He is published extensively in the area of rehabilitation and has held adjunct appointments in the School of Medicine at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and in the Department of Human Development at the University of Kansas. Dr. Ulicny is a member of numerous professional organizations, served on the national board of the Head Injury Foundation and currently serves as the Past President of the American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine. He is active in the Atlanta community with the Boy Scouts of America and serves on the board of the Georgia Hospital Association.


Shanna Thorpe is the spinal cord injury adolescent recreational therapist at Shepherd Center. She is responsible for planning and implementing Fun Friday community events such as bowling, restaurants, movies, etc. to help re-integrate patients to community settings, reduce stigma, learn about accessibility, increase confidence, and problem solve obstacle scenarios while keeping safety a priority. Shana coordinates all outings with the peer support team to match participating patients with a peer of similar functional level. She also incorporates peers into in-center training sessions, especially for patients with whom the TR team has difficulty connecting with.


Jennifer Roane, OT, has 12 years of inpatient spinal cord injury rehabilitation experience. She has presented at multiple conferences, on various topics related to SCI rehabilitation. Having a passion for women’s health and wellness, she co-developed a class for women with SCI who are inpatient and outpatient. This class addresses women’s health, sexuality, pregnancy and parenting, and fashion. Jen gets fulfillment out of seeing her patients succeed through creative treatments and their return to the community as independently as possible.


ACRM Annual ConferenceProgress in Rehabilitation Research (PIRR#2017)

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