Rehab Champ

Natasha Schuh Honored for Work With Spinal Cord Injury

Natasha SchuhNatascha Schuh, of Ellsworth, Wis., was only 16 when she fell through a trap door on stage at her high school. The fall resulted in a cervical spinal cord injury and paralysis from the neck down.

Although her initial reaction was not positive, today she is the proud recipient of the Foundation for Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation's 2012 American Rehabilitation Champion Award. The award honors the extraordinary efforts of a person to overcome disability and make valuable contributions to the community.

After Schuh finished high school, she attended college, earning two degrees in communications and theology. Now 31, she lives independently and works as a travel agent and motivational speaker. Schuh also won this year's Miss Wheelchair USA pageant.

But it was Schuh's work within the rehab community that earned her a nomination for the Rehabilitation Champion Award.

Schuh works as a peer mentor to people with new spinal cord injuries. She has developed patient education materials on emergency preparedness, relationships and sexuality after spinal cord injury. In addition, Schuh serves as a patient advocate on the Mayo Clinic's Community Advisory Council.

Dr. Mark Christopherson, Schuh's treating physician at the Mayo Clinic, nominated her for the award.

"She shares her story in many venues: churches, schools, corporate and medical organizations and correctional facilities. She openly reveals her accident, her journey and how she has inspired others to find purpose in life," he says of Schuh. "She speaks to the necessity of persevering to overcome unbelievable difficulties, yet learning to love life. Her message is powerful and genuine. She is a true champion."

The award was created to spotlight the difference between recovery and rehabilitation. Schuh received the award on Nov. 17 in conjunction with the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Annual Assembly.