Paralysis Caused By Spinal Cord Injuries Arising From Accidents

By William Bill Hurst

There are 247,000 Americans currently living with spinal cord injuries and approximately 11,000 injuries each year.  Children make up 5% of the persons living with spinal cord injuries, usually as a result of a traffic injury or a fall.  A much higher percentage group is young adults, mostly male, who make up 78.2% of Americans living with spinal cord injuries.  In the 1970s the average age was 28.6 years and currently the average age is 38 years, largely due to the number of injuries occurring in persons over the age of 60.  Motor vehicle crashes and traffic accidents are the leading causes of spinal cord injury (54.4%).  Injuries caused by falls come in second with 23.8% while the rest follows with violent acts and sports injuries.  There does seem to be a decrease in work-related injuries but an increase in injuries caused by sports and recreational activity. http://www.catastrophicinjury.com/description_spinal.php    For a comprehensive website on spinal injuries see http://www.brainandspinal.org/

ABC news recently reported that Dr. Donald Leslie, who was the medical director of Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Georgia, performed the first embryonic stem cell therapy on a 21-year old college student who lost control of his car and suffered severe paralysis as a result.  Stem cells are building blocks of life and have been used in laboratories to repair broken spinal cords of small animals who did walk again.  Atchinson agreed to become test case number one.  Doctors opened his wound and used a remote control to guide the needle and inject the spinal cord with a small dose of two million cells that they hoped would transform into new nerve cells, attach to the muscles and re-fire Atchinson’s nervous system.  Six months after the therapy Atchinson indicated that he is able to sense weight when someone places a heavy item on his lap.  It is barely there but Atchinson indicated that he can sense something.  When he rubs his leg he says “I can feel that.  There is something there.”  His doctors at this time are cautiously optimistic.  http://abcnews.go.com/Health/spinal–injury-victim-undergo-embryonic-stem-cell/story?id=13742532

Spinal cord injuries were once frequently fatal but over the past 50 years new treatments have developed to help people with spinal cord injuries survive.  In the case of a traumatic spinal cord injury due to an accident immediate and comprehensive trauma care is crucial for both survival and long term outcome.  A competent trauma team can do much to minimize the spread and damage of spinal cord injury.  The long term prognosis for spinal cord injury depends on the nature and location of the injury as well as the quality of care received.   In the initial stages of the emergency trauma center doctors will work to make sure that you are stabilized and no further injury will occur.  You will continue to be immobilized while under going tests such as CAT scans and MRIs.  These imaging tests will help the doctors determine the extent of your injuries.  Spinal cord injuries have a tendency to worsen after the initial injury, but a corticosteroid drug first used for spinal cord injuries in the early 1990s may help reduce the extent of the spread of inflammation and injury to nerve cells.

During the first few hours and days after traumatic spinal cord injuries doctors may need to operate to remove foreign objects, bone fractures, fractured vertebrae and herniated discs that are compressing the spine.  Sometimes surgery is also necessary to stabilize the spine.  However the precise time to perform emergency surgeries is controversial.  Some doctors believe that the sooner the operation is performed the greater the chances.  Other doctors are convinced that surgery should be postponed for several days so that the patient’s condition will be more stable.  There are other surgical procedures that may help later in your road to recover as much function as possible. For example, there are tendon transfer surgeries which sometimes help people with spinal cord injuries gain more control of their arms and legs.  Tendon transfer surgeries are utilized only for people in relatively good health as it requires a period of being immobile for a length of time prior to surgery. Staying immobile for a period of time may create other problems such as bed sores, blood clots, respiratory problems, spastic muscles and the like.  There are of course other related injuries that appear such as blood pressure issues, stroke or seizure.

Once the patient’s condition has been stabilized rehabilitation can begin.  It is important that rehab begin as soon as possible so that the muscles do not atrophy.  Today there is a lot of new technology which can assist physical therapy, giving the victim the best chance of recovery.  Normally physical therapy begins at the hospital and later at a rehab center where a person receives more and advanced therapy as the condition improves.  The victim and his or her family will be taught techniques for managing skin care and dealing with various kinds of infections as well as adapting the home to a new situation.  In recent years there has been a lot of exciting technology, for example there is an implantable system that can allow people with certain types of spinal injuries to grasp objects with their hands.  This device is controlled by the shoulder’s position and is commonly used with tendon transfer surgeries.  Legs may benefit from electrodes which allow persons to ride a stationary bicycle.  This strengthens the muscles, bones and cardiovascular system.

The U.S. News and World Report  identified what it believes are the top ten rehab hospitals in the United States for persons suffering from paralysis in 2007.  The Rehabilitation Center in Chicago was named number one.  Visit the RIC’s website at http://www.ric.org   The second leading rehabilitation hospital was Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation at www.kessler-rehab.com .  Third, the University of Washington Seattle Medical Center at www.uwmedicine.org  Fourth, Memorial Herman TIRR at www.tirr.org.  Fifth, Mayo Clinic at www.mayoclinic.org.  Sixth, Craig Hospital at www.craighospital.org.  Seventh, NYU Medical Center at www.nyumedicalcenter.org  Eighth, Spalding Rehab Hospital at http://spaldingrehab.com/ .  Ninth, National Rehab Hospital at www.nrhrehab.org.  The tenth rehabilitation hospital was Ohio State Hospital at www.medicalcenter.osu.edu

Another survey taken in 2009 indicates that 1 and 50 Americans live with some form of paralysis.  There have been no solid estimates until this one as reported by the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, which recently released the survey.  The average age acing to the survey of those who responded indicated that they are paralyzed at age 52.  Accidents at work were the number one cause of spinal cord injuries followed by motor vehicular accidents, then sporting or recreational accidents.  Despite spinal cord injuries, there are forms of paralysis which include stroke, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy and post-polio syndrome.  The Christopher Reeve Foundation is seeking better adherence to the American Disability Act and more support for the family care givers for those who are paralyzed.  The Foundation tries to put a human face on the problem of paralysis.  www.health .usnews.com/health-news/familyhealth

The Institute for Advanced Reconstruction has indicated that there are several new developments that would allow patients to regain function to restore the appearance in ways that are almost unimaginable in the not-to-distant future.  The Institute for Advanced Reconstruction offers various types of treatments for new advances in nerve construction for paralysis treatment to newer, more life-like methods of breast reconstruction.  Another avant garde treatment involves electrical implants for paralysis treatment.  Electric stimulation from a spinal cord implant mimicking the signals of the brain has allowed paralyzed patients to stand on their own and walk on a treadmill with assistance, acing to researches as reported by CNN Health at www.cnn.com/2011/HEALTH/05/19/paralysis.implant.treatment/index.html .

At a news conference in New York City recently doctors introduced Rob Summers, a 25-year old paralyzed spinal cord injury victim from Oregon.  Summers received continual epidermal stimulation at the lower spinal cord.  This enabled his muscles and joint movements that are required to stand and with assistance to step.  Acing to Dr. Reggie Edgerton, a professor in the Department of Biology and Physiology at the University California Los Angeles indicated that the stimulation causes changes in the brain and changes in the spinal cord.  A therapy already used in a number of U.S. hospitals known as functional electrical stimulation, in which stimulants or electrodes are placed on the skin above the muscles to help chronic spinal cord injured victims move their limbs and in some cases walk with assistance.  In this new procedure however, the electrodes are implanted under the patient’s body which creates a constant signal.  It is urged that this does not represent a cure for spinal cord injuries but it is definitely a basis to build on.  This project which is outlined in the latest issue of the medical journal Lancet was funded by the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation.  For more on Rob Summers see http://articles.latimes.com/2011/may/20/health/la-he-spinal–20110520

Clearly the future of spinal cord research has been fueled by significant federal and private funding during the past decade.  This is good news for the 10-12,000 Americans who sustain these traumatic injuries.  Many of the researchers are supported by NINDS http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/sci/detail_sci.htm Researchers are actively developing innovated research strategies aimed at making new discoveries that will translate to better clinical care and better lives for the victims.  For more information for neurological disorders and/or research  programs the National Institute for Neurological Stroke contact the institute’s brain resources and information network at P.O. 5801 Bethesda, Maryland, 20824 or call by phone at 800-352-9424 or visit the website at http://www.ninds.nih.gov  Other valuable resources would include the National Spinal Cord Injury Association, http://www.spinal.org; the Spinal Cord Society at http://www.scsus.org; Paralyzed Veterans of America at http://www.pva.org, National Institute on Disability and Rehab Research at www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/osers/nidrr For publications in Spanish see http://espanol.ninds.nih.gov/ which is the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke publicaciones en espanol.

If you or a loved one has received serious life altering injuries, contact William Bill Hurst, an experienced trial lawyer.

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William W. Hurst

Bill Hurst has successfully represented hundreds of accident victims, and has limited his practice to personal injury cases for over thirty-five (35) years.


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