Celebrating International Women’s Day

In the week leading up to International Women’s Day, we celebrated the breadth of work that women in our field of spinal cord injury (SCI) are achieving by sharing the stories of five remarkable women: Kristine Hendry, Dr Marnie Graco, Dr Eimear Smith, Dr Gillean Hilton and Emily Quattrocchi.

Through their stories we hope to inspire others of any age and ability to dream big, work hard and value equality.

We originally posted their stories on our Facebook page, which you can still check out, and we’ve also published their stories here in this news post as well. The stories are listed in chronological order as they appeared on Facebook. Be sure to Like us on Facebook to hear more about the work we do.


Kristine Hendry

Kristine Hendry is the CEO of the Spinal Research Institute. She is passionate about spinal cord injury, charity work, making a difference and she is a great leader.

The theme for #IWD2020 is #EachForEqual, what does that mean to you?

#EachForEqual is about creating a more gender-equal world. We are each responsible for our actions and attitudes, which collectively impact the communities we live and work in. For me, I work at challenging gender stereotypes, and celebrating women’s achievements in all walks of life.

Which women do you admire and celebrate?

I especially admire the women I have worked with on volunteer projects for charities and community groups. In many cases they have dedicated years to their cause, they are passionate and drive the momentum of the projects, and without their efforts hundreds of thousands of dollars would not have been raised and programs would not have been delivered. I give a special shout out to Kylie Jeffares, a parent I worked with at Ripponlea Primary School, and Lina Marrocco, the Chair of Charityworks for MS. Both wonderful women who have achieved amazing things.


Dr Gillean Hilton

Dr Gillean Hilton has worked with us for a few years as a researcher but her skillset is much greater than that, occupational therapist, project coordinator to name but a few. Gillean shares insights into why she chose this field.

Tell us about your career path and why you chose to work in SCI:

Way back in 1997 in my first job after graduating  from occupational therapy (OT) I was out in Dubbo, NSW, and I met a couple of people who worked for Paraquad NSW, one of whom had a spinal cord injury. We had the most inspiring conversation about designing high ropes courses for people who used wheelchairs, and it immediately got me thinking about working in the area of SCI, motivated that as an OT I might be able to support people find and participate in fun, challenging and enriching activities again after injury. Fast forward 23 years (yikes), I feel like I have crammed a fair bit in. I remain highly motivated to partner with people to rediscover meaning and purpose again after their lives are changed dramatically.

I have worked in lots of different areas for the Victorian Spinal Cord Service Austin Health since 2001, including in leisure, as senior OT and in project coordination. More recently, having completed my PhD in 2017, exploring the experience of employment after SCI, I have been able to contribute in different ways through research, consultation and exploring innovations in service delivery. I had my two boys while I was doing my PhD, and I feel blessed that they have been very much part of my study, work and leisure time.

A woman who inspires me?

Would have to be my mum. She travelled extensively as a young woman and went to Vietnam as Camp Commandant with the Red Cross in her mid 30s. Her stories of this time where probably the first time that I was exposed to something like occupational therapy. She has always been a calm, strong and determined woman.


Dr Marnie Graco

Dr Marnie Graco is a mum, researcher and physiotherapist. Her PhD research investigated the management of obstructive sleep apnoea in people with SCI.

We asked her a couple of questions about what motivates her to work in the SCI field, and about the women she admires.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your research:
I am now working on ways to improve how sleep apnoea is managed in people with SCI. I currently work at the Alfred Hospital, assisting allied health clinicians to undertake research in their clinical areas, while also pursuing my own SCI research. I have two active boys, Oscar and Harry, who love camping, swimming, football, Harry Potter and eating pasta! They keep me very busy but when I do get time to myself, I love to see live music, go for long walks and read novels.

What inspired you to work in this field?
I fell into SCI research when I accepted a job at the Austin Hospital 11 years ago with my now long-term mentor and friend David Berlowitz. David’s program of research in sleep disorders and SCI sparked my own interest in SCI research, and within a couple of years (give or take a baby or two) I had enrolled in a PhD. I love working with the SCI community. I constantly admire how well people with SCI are living with their disability and I am incredibly grateful for their generous support of our research projects. Partnerships between SCI researchers, clinicians and people with the lived experience are definitely getting stronger, and I’m confident that this shift in how we work together will bring positive changes for people living with SCI and their families.

Tell us about a woman you admire?
I admire my sister-in-law Jenny Jones for her strength and determination no matter what life throws at her. I also admire my good friend Liz Molloy, a mum of (nearly) four, who’s amazing career has been fuelled by her passion for what she does.


Dr Eimear Smith

Dr Eimear Smith works with adults and children who have sustained traumatic and non-traumatic SCI. We have had the pleasure of getting to know her over the past few years through her work with the International Spinal Cord Society.

She is the National Speciality Director for Rehabilitation Medicine in Ireland, is a committee member for a number of professional associations, and is on the Board of Directors at Spinal Injuries Ireland (a support group/charity for people in Ireland with SCI).

Tell us a bit about yourself:
I work with patients in the acute phase of care right through to the community. I am soon to commence work with the newly developed National Trauma Office/Strategy, on the development of trauma rehabilitation services in Ireland. And I hope to complete a post-graduate diploma in Epidemiology later this year through the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

Although I don’t have a formal academic appointment, I am very interested in research in all areas of SCI. My most recent publications are updates on SCI epidemiology in Ireland and the development of an internet-based pain self-management programme. I am currently working with a group in the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, examining Patient & Public Involvement in pre-clinical SCI research.

What do you love about your job?
There are a few things I love. I really enjoy the fact that, in the face of many challenges, we usually get the very best out of patients and their families, physically and emotionally. I love that I work with a great team of people who share similar aims and objectives as I do, for and with our patients. Professionals, who discover that SCI care/management is for them, tend to stay in the field and this brings stability to a team.

Finally, I love the science behind SCI: the anatomical reasoning, the physiological management of this multi-system condition, measuring outcomes (an analysing them statistically); also reading about clinical trials with various interventions, which are striving for improved neurological outcomes and prevention/management of secondary health conditions … among many other things!

Tell us about a woman you admire?
Although I didn’t ever meet her, I admire my great-grandmother, who my father refers to as his Granny McGuinness. Back in the 1920s/1930s in rural Ireland, most women, when they reached their late teens/early 20s, had a husband identified for them and got a dowry to enable them to be married. Granny McGuinness bucked the trend by ensuring that her five daughters (including my own granny) all worked after leaving school to earn their own income before settling down to married life and having children. As a result, all were married in their 30s, which was considered quite old back then. So, my Great-Granny McGuinness was progressive beyond her time.


Emily Quattrocchi

Happy International Women’s Day! Today is a chance to reflect on women and the important work they are doing.

Throughout the week we have been highlighting just some of the amazing women we work with. Today we are featuring Emily Quattrocchi, an emerging filmmaker who we were lucky enough to meet last year.

Since sustaining a spinal cord injury in 2018, Emily has documented her life and her rehabilitation through YouTube videos. “I want to show the world that I am still capable of loving life, being happy and obtaining success because I want people who are new to having a spinal injury to understand they can be happy too,” Emily says.

Her short film, Emily, you never give up, covers her injury and rehabilitation, and was shortlisted at a number of film festivals around the world.

We’re highlighting her today to demonstrate the inner strength of women, and because we think she is amazing.

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