News Feb 28, 2022

Peers helping patients: Spinal cord injury mentors give back

Life following a spinal cord injury (SCI) involves adjusting to new physical and environmental changes in addition to the impact the injury has on all areas of a person’s life. This experience can vary significantly across individuals. Having support from others who have undergone comparable circumstances can make a big difference for the individual and their family in the adjustment process.

What peer mentors do

Baylor Scott & White Institute for Rehabilitation (BSWIR) received a $75,000 grant from the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation to enhance the current peer mentor program by extending peer mentoring beyond discharge and using technology to keep patients engaged. Peer mentors offer support to newly injured patients and families by helping them prepare for their transition home as well as adjusting to challenges. Some challenges might include:

  • Mobility around the community
  • Bowel & bladder management
  • Home accessibility
  • Relationships and sexuality

How they do this

Peer mentors begin their relationship with SCI patients during inpatient rehab and continue to work with them for up to six months. Peer mentors help by:

  • Providing emotional support
  • Modeling various ways to successfully manage and accomplish important life goals after an injury
  • Supporting ongoing care through appointment oversight
  • Helping keep patients connected to the classes and support groups offered by BSWIR. For patients living at a distance, this includes providing virtual connectivity.

Who are they

Our peer mentors have all undergone training through the Christopher Reeve Peer Mentor program, a national peer mentor service available to people with a spinal cord injury. Additionally, most of our peer mentors were treated at BSWIR after their injury.

Sarah Milburn

Peer mentor Sarah Milburn.

What made you choose to be a peer mentor?

I choose to be a mentor to make an impact in the spinal cord community. It’s crucial to provide patients with as many resources as possible in order to help them transition back to their life.

How has being a peer mentor impacted you?

Being a peer mentor is extremely rewarding. Not too long ago I was in the patient’s shoes trying to figure out my new routine.

Why do you think peer mentoring is important?

When a newly injured patient is assigned a mentor it directly impacts them and helps establish a resource for when they leave the hospital. The patients have a different sense of trust with the mentor because the mentor was once in the same position as them. By creating this relationship, the patient feels more comfortable asking questions about what they are going through.

Any other comments you have about the peer mentor program?

This program is such a great resource for patients, especially when they leave the hospital setting and go back into the community. When patients have questions, they can simply reach out to their mentor for advice.

Richard Singleton

Richard Singleton (left) and his mentee, Arthur Robertson

What made you choose to be a peer mentor?

I was a patient at BSWIR from June 1, 2005 to August 18, 2005. I then moved to Wilmington, NC and entered another outpatient rehab program. They offered swimming, golfing and Scuba training which allowed me to gain additional rehab experience. I worked with the physical therapist who implemented the swimming program at BSWIR. During physical therapy I increased my stamina and ability to function using my manual chair. I decided to moved back to Dallas and paid BSWIR a visit. Many of my physical therapists were still there and they invited me to join the SCI Advisory Board. I became an official peer mentor in 2007. I believe my experiences in rehab/post rehab are valuable and sharing them with patients is a way for me to give back by helping others.

How has being a peer mentor impacted you?

Working with patients who are newly injured, especially those with a similar injury to mine, allows me to develop close friendships with them. I enjoy sharing deep feelings, thoughts about faith and insight regarding my purpose. I remind patients they are not alone and we are in this together.

Why do you think peer mentoring is important?

First, it is important to look inside yourself and examine your conscience. Look for what is good and purposeful then strive to accentuate those traits and qualities. Second, we must acknowledge our not as good qualities and try to avoid putting them out there for others to see.

Any other comments you have about the peer mentor program?

When I am working with a peer I often get a sense that they are experiencing "an Alleluia" moment. Asking open ended questions allows for them to think about how they are going to answer. It allows them to dig deeper and examine their own conscious. Showing positivity, even though you might not be feeling positive, always lightens the mood and lets you bond with those around you.

Why we need peer mentors

The experience and wisdom that our peer mentors provide to patients is priceless. A spinal cord injury is life-changing and the physical and mental challenges that come along with it can be hard to overcome on your own. Having a solid support system of friends and family is the foundation, but having the knowledge, support and encouragement from somebody that's been through it already, can help you overcome anything.


Christa Ochoa, MPH, CCRC
Research Analyst
Baylor Scott & White Research Institute
Baylor Scott & White Institute for Rehabilitation

Sarah Carey
Research Enrollment Analyst
Baylor Scott & White Research Institute
Baylor Scott & White Institute for Rehabilitation