Sherman Gillums: Learning the Importance of Life through Spinal Cord Injury
The driving force for consumer advocate Sherman Gillums, Jr., is to "take what he has learned and give back." Sherman enlisted in the Marines at age 17; twelve years later, shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and while preparing to deploy to Afghanistan with the 1st Marine Division, he suffered a spinal cord injury (SCI) in an automobile accident. At age 29, this recipient of two Navy/Marine Corps Commendation Medals, a Navy/Marine Corps Achievement Medal and a Global War on Terror Service Medal, was paralyzed and honorably discharged from the Marine Corps. He turned to Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), the advocacy organization founded by returning WWII service members with spinal cord injuries, for support in re-entering the job market after his SCI. Not only did he find a career he enjoys - and return to school for a master's degree - but, today Sherman is PVA's Associate Executive Director for Veterans Benefits, overseeing field services, vocational rehabilitation services, and architecture services.
In his free time, Sherman loves spending time with his wife, two sons, and four daughters. He enjoys reading nonfiction, writing, and watching sports - especially football, basketball, and boxing. Acknowledging his family as the true catalyst behind his recovery, he reflects, "I relied on intestinal fortitude to get me through the challenges I faced in the Marines. But with SCI rehabilitation, it took that and more. My family's belief in me gave me the ability to persevere beyond my normal limits."
Sherman was nominated by PVA to serve as a peer reviewer for CDMRP's Spinal Cord Injury Research Program (SCIRP). Of his experience, he says that he thoroughly enjoyed the "privilege to represent the perspective of men and women with SCI while exploring various realms of scientific research." Being a consumer peer reviewer also gave him the chance to speak with the dedicated researchers working to "improve quality of life for people with SCI, whether that entails totally eliminating neuropathic pain, restoring full hand function for someone with quadriplegia, or completely healing a spinal cord and its function after injury." Sherman declares that "there is no better way to give back to those who saved my life, pushed me through rehabilitation, and helped me reintegrate into society than being a consumer advocate."
He reflects upon the extraordinary courage and determination he mustered on his path to recovery, being able to reach out for help and not only survive, but become that person who can extend the helping hand. As Sherman ardently states, "My SCI has made me appreciate the importance of life...it also gives me the opportunity to inspire others, something I look forward to every waking minute of my life."