Sandra Shampan

LEWIS €" It was a rainy October morning in 1996 that changed Sandra Shampang.

An administrator at the Smith House in Willsboro, she was driving to work in her Ford Escort when she was struck by a large truck, 100 feet from her employer's driveway.

"At the time, I didn't realize I was unconscious," Shampang said. "I was lifted up out of my seat. I hit my head on the headliner."

She was wearing an automatic shoulder seat belt and a lap belt.

The driver of the truck got assistance at the Smith House.

"One of the nurses came up and picked me up. I was sick and dizzy. I was examined by the physician's assistant, and he sent me home. He said, Take the rest of the week off and we'll see you on Monday.'"

Shampang didn't go to the hospital. Her symptoms worsened. She couldn't get out of bed. She couldn't walk well. After four weeks of Tylenol for headaches and sleeping all the time, she was in a fog.

"I have a lot of holes in this."

Her then-husband insisted she see a neurologist, so she made an appointment with Dr. Leland Scott at Fletcher Allen Healthcare in Burlington. Head injuries were his specialty.

"He immediately put me on medication and got me into physical therapy. His diagnosis was post-concussive syndrome or traumatic brain injury."

The injury was caused on impact during the accident. Shampang spent six years in recovery with a ton of medication. She was not able to work. She received Social Security Benefits and Medicare.

"I had a long working history. I was very frustrated. I had been a business owner and business manager. I couldn't remember anything."

The Traumatic Brain Injury Association of New York State referred her to the North Country Center for Independence in Plattsburgh. On that initial call, Shampang spoke with peer counselor Patti King.

"All I remember is crying for a whole hour on the phone. I felt so sorry for myself. I started seeing her weekly. She got me through that grieving process and acceptance. I was not the same person because I couldn't be."

Her organic brain damage has resulted in a seizure disorder, anxiety and panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Things got better after Dr. Kevin Gitlin prescribed the right meds for her. Six months afterward, she was able to drive. She hadn't driven in six years because she couldn't concentrate.

When the Center for Independence first relocated to Sharron Avenue, Shampang was invited to a meeting. The agency had two job openings. She applied for the position of outreach peer counselor for Essex County and got it.

"I so wanted to give back for what the agency had done for me."

Since November 2001, she has worked for the agency from her home. A normal working environment is too loud, too distracting, too much input for her. Her work includes benefits advisement, providing advice and education to people with disabilities who are considering pursuing paid employment.

With King, she is co-developer and presenter of the Independent Living Academy, a 10-week independent-living-skills training course for people with disabilities. It is offered at the Horace Nye Nursing Home in Elizabethtown.

"There are individuals wanting to transition back into the community. We're giving them the information they need to do that."

Shampang is also Community Work Incentives coordinator, teaching Social Security disability recipients about work incentives and how work can impact benefits.

For her work, Shampang was recently recognized by Senator Betty Little with the New York State Senate Achievers' Award during a Disabilities Awareness Day ceremony in Albany. She was nominated for the award by Andrew Pulrang, Center for Independence executive director.

Shampang was honored and humbled to receive the award.

"It was just unbelievable. We have a real good team at the center, and I'm very privileged to be part of that team."

A Christian, Shampang is a faithful person.

"I think God saved me in that accident because he had a real purpose for me €" that is to work with other people with disabilities and bring my knowledge, my kindness, my acceptance because I see everyone the same. I had no judgment on anyone. I'm very honest."

In her coordinator capacity, she covers Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Washington and Warren counties.

She does outreach for groups such as Youth in Transition at Peru High School.

"I explain all the Social Security work incentives to them, and I love doing it."

She's committed to empowering people with disabilities.

"They have rights, and they are allowed dignity and respect from the community," Shampang said. "I don't care what their disability is. They have as much right as anyone to work, have an apartment, a dog and live a normal life to the best of their ability. What our agency tries to do is empower people to be the best they can be."

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