'Secret Garden' connects Shepherd Center patients with family during pandemic

The Shepherd Center in northwest Atlanta treats some of the most serious injuries sustained nationwide. That means long stays for its patients, which can be very isolating during the pandemic.

While almost all visitors cannot gain entry right now, the hospital has found a unique way to connect families and patients.

A patient meets her siblings in a garden alongside Peachtree Road.

Peyton and Chase Schroeder walk up to a 7’ by 7’ square of sidewalk bordering a gate to the Shepherd Center’s Secret Garden.

The siblings stand on one side, facing their 18-year-old sister, Eden, on the other, who recently sustained a spinal injury from a diving accident.

It's a gateway to some level of normalcy after the pandemic forced the hospital to close its doors to almost all visitors.

The COVID-related restrictions have been challenging for patients across the country, but the limitations have been particularly consequential at the Shepherd Center, according to its chief medical officer.

"Most rehab hospitals will have an average length of stay of about 3 weeks or so, and as I mentioned ours is about 50 to 60 days, so it's much longer due to the nature of their injuries," Yochelson explained. "As a result, it's so much more important to them to be able to see family because they're away from them during the most critical portion of their life and for such a long period of time."

While quality time with her siblings undoubtedly brightens Eden Schroeder's day, the relentlessly positive teen is more focused on comforting her loved ones -- to prove that not even a debilitating injury can change the core of who she is.

"You can always say that it's okay and say you're alright, but being able to see [my family] and show them I’m okay and I’m still the same person -- that just completely changes everything for me," Schroeder said. "It really has helped me be able to push through."

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