Formerly paralyzed Holmes student walks across stage at graduation

A Holmes Community College student who suffered a paralyzing spinal cord injury after a terrible wreck in high school thought he had little to no chance of ever regaining movement below his neck. Nearly five and a half years later, after countless hours at Methodist Rehabilitation Center's facilities, 23-year-old Stevelyn Robinson accomplished his goal: to walk across the stage to receive his college diploma.

"It was the best feeling in the world," Stevelyn said. "I never expected the amount of encouragement everybody gave me, but it was awesome."

There was hardly a dry eye in Frank Branch Coliseum on Friday, May 12, as the 5-foot Winona native stood up from his wheelchair and, with the assistance of his physical therapist Patricia Oyarce and a walker, made his way across the stage. Students, faculty, staff and parents cheered loudly and gave Stevelyn a standing ovation as he proudly took each step.

"There are images that in mere seconds sum up all the things that are important in your life or your work," said Holmes President Dr. Jim Haffey. "Seeing Stevelyn approach our stage on graduation day was one of those once-in-a-lifetime images that will be pleasantly replayed in my mind for the rest of my career. I knew I was witnessing a moment of triumph and determination that most of us will never have the perseverance to experience, but I am so proud that our work at Holmes allowed us to share in that triumph with Stevelyn. He is such a remarkable person."

Thanks to his hard work and dedication, Stevelyn earned his Associate of Arts degree in business administration, but it was no simple feat. Luckily he was blessed with a family that loves him dearly and he had ceaseless support from his mother, Sheila Robinson, who has helped him achieve his goals every step of the way. She quit her job to help take care of him, driving him back and forth from his hometown of Winona to Methodist Rehab in Jackson and accompaning him to his classes on the Holmes Grenada Campus.

When speaking about Stevelyn, however, Sheila is clear that she would do it all over again for her son in a heartbeat.

"I am a former certified nurse assistant, and I actually used to work with paraplegic patients," Sheila said. "I had no idea that God was using my work experience to prepare me to take care of my own precious child."

Dec. 2, 2011, is a date that she will never forget. That was the day that a log truck collided into the school bus carrying both her children as passengers. Always a protective big brother, Stevelyn's first instinct was to protect his sister, Jazalyn, who at the time was only 12 years old. As he jumped out of his seat to try and help her, the bus rolled to its side and Stevelyn, then weighing only a little over 120 pounds, found himself at the bottom of a pile of students.

"I remember my first thought was to see if my sister was okay," Stevelyn said. "On my way to the hospital I remember my last thought before I blacked out was realizing that I couldn't feel legs...it was a scary feeling."

Jazalyn suffered a skull fracture, but was able to go home a few days later after surgery. Doctors informed the Robinson family that Stevelyn, however, was paralyzed from the neck down and that at that point, they could not predict the exact degree of progress he would be able to achieve. Determined to make the most of the situation, Sheila took him to Methodist Rehab as soon as he was able and he eagerly began working hard with his physical therapists.

"Stevelyn is an amazing young man," said physical therapist Ann Howard. "He has made incredible progress and I will never forget that day when I came in and he said to me proudly, "Look what I can do!" as he lifted one leg. From that point on, our sessions changed."

The movement indicated that Stevelyn was an "incomplete quadriplegic" and could possibly regain muscle function below his injury site. During the year Stevelyn spent a year at Methodist Outpatient Neurological Rehabilitation, he worked to regain his motor skills using the hospital's body weight-supporting treadmill and Functional Electrical Stimulation bikes. He also began working with resources such as the adaptive computer and wheelchair devices available through Methodist Rehab. He began re-learning to walk using the Bioness L300 Plus, which are devices that electrical stimulate the legs to activate weakened muscles and nerves.

As he progressed, Stevelyn moved on to Methodist Rehab's outpatient Quest program, which he "graduated" from on May 25. During his time with the program, he accomplished quite a bit, including finishing high school, enrolling in college and completing his degree at Holmes. Stevelyn started out slowly, taking only online courses, but at the prompting of his physical therapist finally decided to attend the Holmes Grenada Campus in person.

"Stevelyn Robinson will always hold a special place in my heart as being one of the most inspiring students I have taught at Holmes Community College," said Grenada Campus music instructor Cindy Dugan. "His daily determination and perseverance encouraged students and faculty alike who were honored with the opportunity to know him."

Stevelyn had the continual support from Holmes CTE Support Services/DSS Coordinator Laura Bigbee, who made sure he always had everything he needed so that he could successfully attend face-to-face classes.

"I knew from day one that there would be no obstacle or hurdle that Stevelyn wasn't willing to face head on," Laura said. "Holmes made the necessary accommodations that allowed Stevelyn the same educational opportunities every other student received. His drive and determination are obvious from the moment you meet him. He is an outstanding young man with a bright future ahead of him."

A former football, basketball and track star at Montgomery High School in Kilmichael, Stevelyn also found ways to continue utilizing his natural athleticism. He joined the Jackson quad rugby team, the Jackson Jags, and played whenever he was able to get in town for games. Patricia commented that Stevelyn never wanted to give up and that even on his bad days, always showed up ready to work hard in their physical therapy sessions. He had goals - including walking to receive his diploma at graduation - and he never lost sight of them. Stevelyn even participated in Methodist Rehab's Driving Rehabilitation Program which gave him the training and equipment to be able to drive a vehicle again.

Now that he is a Holmes alum, Stevelyn plans to attend the University of Mississippi and begin classes in the fall. He chose to transfer to Ole Miss based on proximity to his hometown and his history with the school. In 2014, Stevelyn was chosen by Sigma Nu Fraternity as the recipient of the year for charity bowl. Sigma Nu Charity Bowl is an event held annually as a fundraiser for people with spinal cord injuries, and was established in honor of the late Ole Miss athlete Chuckie Mullins who was paralyzed because of a football injury. As the honoree, Stevelyn received $75K and had the opportunity to meet former quarterback Bo Wallace, members of Sigma Nu fraternity and girls from participating sororities.

"That was definitely one of the most wonderful experiences of my life," Stevelyn said. "It had a major influence on me and really made me want to go to Ole Miss."

Stevelyn's sister Jazalyn, who recently graduated high school, will also began studies at Ole Miss in the fall.

"I'm excited for both of my children," Sheila said. "It's definitely going to be an adjustment for me, but I'm happy for Stevelyn to have an opportunity to be independent."

Following his graduation day at Methodist Rehab's Quest program, Stevelyn grinned ear-to-ear through a few tears of joy as he and his physical therapists recounted how far he has come. In regards to his successful walk across stage at the Holmes graduation, Patricia revealed that he even did it without the leg braces that would've made it easier for him because he wanted to wear his fancy shoes.

"We are so proud of Stevelyn, and we're going to miss him here {at Methodist} so much!" Patricia said.

For more information about Methodist Rehabilitation Center, visit https://www.methodistonline.org/ or contact Director of Communications Susan Christensen at schristens@mmrcrehab.org.Save