At Geoff McDonald & Associates, we have seen first-hand the devastating impact of spinal cord injury (SCI) on victims and their families, especially those who have suffered SCI from an auto accident, slip and fall or workplace incident.
This is why we are glad that Congress passed a resolution designating September as “National Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month.” We believe this designation allows us to use this month to:
- Educate the public, including readers of our blog, about what spinal cord injury is and the affect it can have on people’s lives
- Express our support for those living with SCI as well as our sincere thanks to doctors, researchers and organizations such as the National Spinal Cord Injury Association (NSCIA) that are dedicated to improving life for those with SCI.
What Is Spinal Cord Injury?
The spinal cord is a bundle of nerves within the spinal column that transmits messages from the brain to the rest of the body. The spinal column consists of 31 bones called vertebrae.
If there is damage to the spinal column – for instance, through a sudden, violent blow – it can damage the spinal cord.
If the nerves within the spinal cord are damaged, it can cause impairment of one’s respiratory, urinary and gastrointestinal functions.
Spinal cord injury can also cause musculoskeletal impairment. The severity of the harm often depends on where the injury occurred. A person typically loses all sensation and movement below the point of the injury.
Two common types of spinal cord injury are paraplegia (complete or incomplete paralysis in the lower body) and tetraplegia (paralysis in all four limbs).
In addition to the physical harm caused by spinal cord injury, an individual may suffer psychological damage such as depression and anxiety.
There are 200,000 people in the U.S. living with spinal cord injury, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates. Their ranks grow by around 12,000 to 20,000 people each year.
According to the CDC, the leading causes of SCI are:
- Motor vehicle accidents (46 percent of new SCI cases each year)
- Falls (22 percent)
- Violence (16 percent)
- Sports (12 percent).
Many of the SCI cases that our law firm has encountered have involved people who were harmed upon impact in a car accident or when struck by cars as motorcyclists, bicyclists or pedestrians.
We have also seen instances in which workers – specifically those at construction sites – suffered spinal cord damage due to falls from roofs, ladders and scaffolds.
Our firm also assists disabled veterans who suffered spinal cord injury while serving in the Armed Forces.
What Is the Impact of SCI?
A person suffering from paraplegia or tetraplegia simply cannot work. Additionally, a person with SCI may require ongoing medical treatment, therapy, assistive devices and nursing care.
The person typically must seek medical benefits and disability income through workers’ compensation, VA benefits or Social Security disability benefits. In some cases, the person can pursue compensation through a personal injury lawsuit as well.
The costs of spinal cord injury can be overwhelming. For instance, the NSCIA estimates that a person age 25 with paraplegia may face $2.2 million in medical costs over his or her lifetime, while a person with high tetraplegia may face $4.4 million in costs if the injury occurs at age 25.
As the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) notes, there continue to be breakthroughs in helping those with SCI, including new ways to protect surviving nerve cells from further damage in affected parts of the body, regeneration of nerve axons and replacement of destroyed nerve cells.
This is why it is important to continue to support research that can help people live with SCI and, perhaps, lower their medical needs and costs as they move ahead in life.