Megan Helsel was always interested in wildlife, especially wild birds. When she was working at a veterinary clinic, she met a client who was wearing a USDA APHIS t-shirt and struck up a conversation. “I didn’t know anything about the agency,” Megan said, “but once I learned about it, I was immediately interested.”
That led Megan to apply for a position as a biological science technician with APHIS’ Wildlife Services. Megan’s job involves, among other things, keeping birds away from airports and hopefully preventing another “Miracle on the Hudson.”
In October 2018, Megan was paralyzed from the waist down after undergoing emergency spinal surgery. Although doctors told Megan she would never walk again, she enrolled in an intensive rehabilitation program to build back her strength and endurance. “All I could think about was getting back to work and doing what I loved,” Megan said.
Six months later, Megan returned to work. Her supervisors helped her make modifications to accommodate her physical disability. A flexible schedule allowed Megan to gradually increase work hours and assignments.
Megan had to get creative and adapt to new challenges. She used a cart and ratchet strap attached to her waist to carry her kayak to the shore and launch it. She also used two canes when she walked and carried heavy items in a backpack to keep her hands free.
“I have become physically and mentally stronger with each new project,” she said. She encourages all employees to be open about what they can and cannot do, and to ask for the resources they need. “There are reasonable accommodations for many positions,” she said.
Megan aims to have a long career with APHIS. “The support I’ve received has helped me to come back stronger and bring that strength, creativity, and resilience to my work.”