Dr. Bill Scelza is often described as a person who quietly and skillfully advocates for the people he serves and is dedicated to helping individuals with spinal cord injuries (SCI) live life and pursue their passions.
“Dr. Scelza is quick to connect with people and uses his keen humor to encourage smiles,” says Mary Vidmar, Associate Chief Nursing Officer for Outpatient Nursing Services at Craig. “He makes every effort to support opportunities and growth for all individuals. Most importantly, he is acutely aware of the power of resiliency of the human spirit.”
Dr. Scelza has worked with SCI patients at Craig over the past decade and is passionate about helping them achieve their goals – including a patient who wanted to become a parent, another seeking to become a family medicine physician and one who wanted to experience college dorm life. “In helping patients achieve their goals, Dr. Scelza constantly demonstrates that anything is possible for individuals with SCI,” says Heather Both, Director of Outpatient Services.
His attitude and perspective for achieving goals come from personal and professional SCI experience, having lived with paraplegia since 1988. In his career treating people with SCI, Dr. Scelza has received various reactions from the patients he has worked with; often, they are facing so many inward challenges that they may not acknowledge his wheelchair, while others will ask him about his injury immediately. “I just focus on the patient. My goal is to empower each patient to fully participate in his/her program of care, from planning and scheduling to working hard to progress, but most importantly, living,” he says.
One of Dr. Scelza’s favorite programs is connecting his patients with peers through the Spinal Cord Injury Support Group, which consists of current SCI patients and former patients (graduates) who are at Craig for their re-evaluations. “After medical care and therapies, there can be a gap into the unknown for individuals who are re-entering the community,” he says. “A peer mentor can bridge that gap by providing insight into what life may look like in the community and share stories of their life experience to offer a glimpse into living with a disability. Working with a peer mentor may provide the opportunity to collaborate with someone in a similar situation to achieve a well-lived life.” The Spinal Cord Injury Support Group offers emotional support, companionship, opportunities to learn new recreational activities and connection to local resources and groups that may benefit patients as they return home.
Dr. Scelza also works with patients and caregivers through an outpatient SCI transition program. The two- to three-week program helps build confidence and skills for some patients who can live independently. In this program, Dr. Scelza helps supervise four nurse practitioners to help bridge the gap from leaving a rehabilitation program at Craig to going home. “There are so many issues to address, and it is important to know how to advocate for yourself,” he says. “From transportation to health and wellness to psychiatric care to decreasing health care benefits to leveraging private insurance for gaps of coverage and more – it can be overwhelming.” The transition program empowers people to learn to live outside the protective environment of the hospital with an entire team to support them through this process. "It has been beautiful to see the growth and confidence people have in themselves once they have completed the program,” Dr. Scelza says.
As he has grown older with a spinal cord injury himself, Dr. Scelza is now helping people with SCI learn how to age with their injury. “Many people experience functional decline or neurological reasons why they are declining as they age – the body becomes less forgiving,” he says. He works hard to understand what is going on with patients and how to rethink their mindset and modify the way they may approach their everyday activities as they age with their injury. “In addition to approaching the physical effects of aging with a spinal cord injury, I’m also working with patients and their aging caregivers to address depression and anxiety, cognitive dysfunction, medical complications such as diabetes, malnutrition or when failure to thrive becomes a crisis.”
Having a spinal cord injury changes some things forever, but people can still have a full and rewarding life. People with spinal cord injuries are able to work, drive, play sports, have relationships and families, and more. “We are in this together,” Dr. Scelza says. “It is how we persevere that we can demonstrate bravery every day.”
William "Bill" Scelza, MD, joined the CNS Medical Group and Craig Hospital in 2011 and serves as the Outpatient Program Medical Director.