Sixteen-year-old Terrell R. wheels himself into the room with his gray hoodie covering his head and music blasting through his headphones. Hailing from the West Oak Lane neighborhood, Terrell, a patient at Shriners Hospital for Children in Philadelphia, was left paralyzed from the waist down after sustaining a gunshot wound to the chest while walking home last April. He has a T8 spinal cord injury.
Although he has made much progress since coming to Shriners for rehabilitative care last May, post-discharge while at home, he didn't move around too much staying in the house, taking to his bed and subsequently losing weight and muscle mass. This led to a decline in health.
Terrell is back at Shriners after developing pressure sores that required medical attention and will be spending Christmas day in the hospital. While inpatient he is also working on his physical therapy to help build back his muscle tone, along with tube feedings in the hopes that this can help him to bulk up and heal more quickly.
I sit down with him in the "teen lounge" of the hospital, a room that displays inspirational quotes of triumph, and pictures of wheelchair sports on the walls. It's a space complete with TVs and video games, designed to let adolescent patients spend some enjoyable time out of their hospital rooms. The holidays have left the space filled with wreaths and trees all strung with garland.
Like most teenage boys, Terrell is a man of few words. Yet despite his quiet nature he confesses, "It's hard being in this hospital over the holidays, because I can't be at home, with my family." For Terrell home is with his grandmother, his legal guardian, and his 5 siblings all of whom will be visiting him on Christmas day.
"We try to make [Christmas] as fun as possible for the kids and their families, having everyone come and bring their own special food and traditions." shares Anne Leer, one of two Child Life specialists at the hospital. Terrell's grandmother will be bringing a roast duck, a holiday favorite in their family.
This sentiment of fun and cheer is echoed by all the staff, who collectively make an effort to bring festivity to the otherwise sterile walls of the hospital. Giana Indelicato, Terrell's favorite nurse, shares that at times the nursing staff have raised money amongst themselves to help decorate the rooms of patients who were to be there over Christmas.
Tucked on the edge of North Philly, Shriners is an intimate 39-bed hospital treating orthopedic, spinal cord and neuromuscular conditions, at no cost to the families they serve. On Wednesday it will be decked out in lights and holly in an attempt to bring joy to Terrell, and the many patients like him, who can't be home for Christmas this year.