New Mexico Chapter: Understanding the Past to Build the Future
A chapter succeeds or fails based on a number of reasons, but one of the keys to any good chapter is understanding the region you are representing. For the New Mexico chapter, this meant understanding the state’s complex history around SCI rehabilitation. As the fifth largest state and the sixth most rural, covering New Mexico’s SCI community has never been an easy task. For a long time, world-renowned Craig Hospital took the state under its aegis and would fly New Mexicans with SCI from many of the state’s rural outposts to Denver. When rehab centers opened in Albuquerque, Craig stopped. That has left many people with SCI out in the desert, literally.
“So now we’ve got a lot of communities where the standard of care is limited to the resources they have in the communities, or maybe those resources were never there, and the networking and peer mentoring stopped,” explains Angelica Dixon, the president of the New Mexico chapter.
Dixon, a PT at HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital in Albuquerque, hopes the new chapter can quickly expand beyond its Albuquerque origins to connect with the rural parts of New Mexico’s SCI community.
“There is a high percentage of people with spinal cord injuries who do not make it back into the community. Some of it has to do with them never making it to rehab, and some of it has to do with not having the support systems to receive them on the end of discharge. We are trying to bring up the continuity and the standard of care across communities and eventually throughout the state, so every individual who has a spinal cord injury can expect to receive a standardized level of care.”
To attain that goal the chapter is focusing on different approaches to reach people with SCI and the clinicians who work with them. For clinicians, the chapter is working on improving statewide education and opening communication lines between hospitals. For people with SCI, building community and trust is the key.
Dixon says that prior to the chapter’s launch in December, there was only one support group in Albuquerque. The chapter is aware that many people don’t associate support groups with fun, and is hoping to change that by introducing an alternative.
“We wanted to give people another option where the support group isn’t necessarily focused on the traditional ‘support group-type’ things, but more like an interest group where we would go out in the community and do activities and get people socializing and networking,” she says. “That introduction has to start really early on. Otherwise we find that for a lot of people, once they get into the community — unless they’re still involved in therapy or clinical studies — there is a good chance they will never be exposed to another person that even has a similar injury.”
That possibility is not acceptable for board member Frances Ozur Cole. She has been in a chair for over 10 years because of the congenital narrowing of her spinal column. Having been through multiple surgeries and rehab stints, she knows the importance and difficulty of reintegrating into society.
“I can’t imagine after three weeks of rehab knowing how to feel and how to be part of a community and feeling strong enough to make the decision to go out into the community and lead your life,” she says. She is a dedicated peer mentor and relentless voice for getting back to living your life. She is excited about a number of events the chapter has planned to do just that. “We just want people to come out of their homes and be a part of the community,” she says.
For more on the New Mexico chapter, visit their web page: www.spinalcord.org/chapters/albuquerque
My husband and I moved from Los Angeles after my wheelchair and I experienced several losing battles with our very steep driveway. While our adopted city’s name may be difficult to spell, Albuquerque offers very affordable living. We were finally able to buy an accessible house with friendly neighbors who look out for me when my husband travels. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them have 911 on speed dial.
Albuquerque is host to the International Balloon Fiesta, held the first week in October since 1972. I was amazed during my first experience: thousands of upturned faces watching vivid colors filling the sky. I took as many photographs of the gawkers as I did the hundreds of balloons. The park is accessible, the parking is great and only guide animals are allowed into the fiesta. Visitors should make travel and hotel reservations early because the city fills up fast.
But by far my favorite thing about Albuquerque is when Bugs Bunny gets lost during his underground travels, looks at a map and quips, “I knew I shoulda taken that left toin at Albukoykee.”
Skinny on the City
Albuquerque, the most populous city in New Mexico, is the cultural crossroads of the state. Located in the center of the Rio Grande Valley, Albuquerque is bordered by five extinct volcanoes to the west and the Sandia and Manzano mountains to the east. Best known for our yearly balloon festival and the television show Breaking Bad, Albuquerque is home to many state-of-the-art medical centers, the University of New Mexico, Kirtland Air Force Base, Sandia National Laboratories and the Petroglyph National Monument.
Places to Go
There are too many things to see in a brief visit to Albuquerque. ABQ BioPark consists of four wheelchair-friendly indoor/outdoor facilities, including an aquarium, a botanical garden, a zoo and Tingley Beach — a place for fishing, model boats and accessible hiking. The botanical garden is a Christmas must-see when the garden turns into a River of Lights, millions of them in nearly 400 sparkling light displays, animated sculptures and synchronized music.
To get a fantastic birdseye view of the city from around 10,000 feet above sea level, I recommend the Sandia Peak tramway. The 2.7-mile ascent is breathtaking. I had no wheelchair issues — but my fear of heights was put to the test every time the sturdy tram swung side to side. At the top, a series of easy ramps leads to a wooden observation deck that offers an 11,000-square-mile panoramic view.
Another of my favorite places to go is the annual juried New Mexico Arts and Crafts Fair, featuring over 200 New Mexican artists and craftspeople displaying and selling their work directly to the public.
Because I refuse to be anything but independent, getting around in my hand-controlled “Fran-Mobile” makes life very easy for me. There are designated accessible spaces every few blocks in the downtown area, but never enough. Parking can be costly, so when visiting, make sure to bring your parking placard.
AbqRide buses are accessible and equipped with wheelchair lifts and knowledgeable operators. Bus routes are an efficient way of getting around the city, as well as to some of Albuquerque’s popular destinations.
Albuquerque does offer the usual curb-to-curb, origin-to-destination paratransit service, SunVan, for permanent residents and visitors, although I would recommend its use only as a last resort. Advanced reservations are required, and visitors must provide documentation that they are ADA-eligible from another paratransit system.
Must See, Must Do
Sophia’s Place: A great breakfast-lunch spot on 4th Street NW, featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, Sophia’s offers eclectic tastes of lemon ricotta pancakes, duck comfit tacos, Asian-style noodle bowls and breakfast egg platters smothered in red chili.
Inspire Uptown Salon (on Menaul and Louisiana NE): I rolled in on the off-chance I could get a fix to the worst haircut I’d ever experienced. I now refuse to go anywhere else.
Paseo del Bosque Trail: Experience 16 miles of a scenic, mostly flat roll along the Rio Grande.