86,000 Canadians are living with a spinal cord injury (SCI) and SCI is one of the most devastating and impactful injuries, both physically and financially. The Rick Hansen Institute states that spinal cord injury is among the most destructive survivable catastrophes that a person may suffer and spinal cord injuries cost the Canadian government about $2.7 billion every year (www.rickhanseninstitute.org/resource/sci/what-is-sci).
Financial care over the lifetime of an injured person may vary between $1.5 Million for someone who sustains paraplegia to $3 Million for quadriplegia. In addition to the costs of healthcare and to communities, the victims of SCI and their families often bear a substantial burden of the cost for ongoing care, rehabilitation treatments, accommodations to the patient’s home and vehicle, loss of income, and numerous other expenses.
A spinal injury does not have to result in paraplegia or quadriplegia, in order to cause a diminished ability to function and chronic pain. Any type of spinal cord injury can result in a devastating impact on the abilities and quality of life of the injured person. SCI often affects the ability to function at home, work and in interpersonal relationships, and can cause financial and emotional hardship for the entire family.
The effects of a spinal cord injury
A spinal cord injury is any injury that results in damage to a part of the spinal cord or the nerves located at the base of the spine. Common physical effects of a spinal cord injury are a loss of strength, sensation and critical function. Symptoms generally vary with the severity of damage to the spinal cord and to the nerve fibres which connect the brain to the rest of the body.
Because every nerve in the spinal column has a specific function related to sensation, feeling and movement, when nerves are damaged, the communication between the brain and a part of the body is compromised. The most serious injury results when a part of the nerve or tissue is severed, which causes temporary or even permanent loss of movement and sensation, including paralysis (www.spinalcord.com).
Cervical injuries are injuries to the cervical part or top of the spinal column, and these are potentially the most serious injuries as they can cause loss of all function below the neck, resulting in quadriplegia. Thoracic injuries involve injury to the upper part of the backbone, which may potentially result in paraplegia. However, injuries to the lumbar spine or lower spine (sacral injuries) also often have debilitating symptoms, including loss of function in the legs and hips.
In addition to pain and loss of function, depending on the severity of injury, a spinal cord injury can have numerous serious effects, including both physical and psychological effects such as depression. The symptoms resulting from SCI may last for a few years or a lifetime, but as long as a person is symptomatic, their ability to carry out daily activities and work functions may be severely compromised. Understandably, victims of spinal cord injury frequently rely on long-term disability benefits to provide income replacement when they are unable to work.
There is currently no cure for a spinal cord injury, but many are hopeful that continued research will provide a solution for this devastating condition. Fortunately, in recent years, there have been many advancements in rehabilitation treatment for individuals with SCI that serve to minimize the disability, improve function and enhance the patient’s quality of life. For example, there are new techniques and treatments that better manage chronic pain, bladder and bowel issues, sexual dysfunction, respiratory problems, and other conditions associated with SCI. We have also seen medical advancements in research that indicate that spinal cord repair and regeneration is possible (www.rickhanseninstitute.org/resource/sci/what-is-sci).
Breakthroughs in the treatment of spinal cord injury
Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City has been experimenting with a surgical procedure that injects stem cells to try to repair the damaged part of a spinal cord, to restore function and movement. This experimental surgery at Mount Sinai was carried out on several patients with a severe spinal cord injury, including a young man, James Mason, who became quadriplegic after breaking his neck in a fall. At three months following his surgery, James was experiencing improvements in his strength and movement, including the ability to move his wrist and grasp. He continued to improve and six months after surgery, he was able to feel sensation in his feet and move his hips. In May 2016, the company that is sponsoring the trial of this procedure reported that four of the six patients who received this treatment have experienced improvements in their strength and function.
Washington University School of Medicine has pioneered a nerve-transfer surgical technique that involves redirecting nerves in the arms and hands of a quadriplegic patient by connecting the injured nerves to healthy nerves. In October 2015, researchers assessed outcomes following this surgery, for nine quadriplegic patients who sustained a neck injury, and they found that every patient reported improvements in hand and arm function. One of the patients, Michael Bavlsik, is a physician and father of eight children who was catastrophically injured in a car accident, which resulted in quadriplegia. Following the experimental surgery, he was able to regain the ability to feed himself, write, examine patients on a limited basis and drive his children to activities.
Recovery for individuals with SCI is generally poor because damaged nerve cells in the spinal cord do not regenerate. A study at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases has been focusing on a technique that uses epothilones (a type of FDA-approved anticancer drug) to boost cell regeneration. Researchers in the study administered epothilone B to rats with SCI and found that there was a significant reduction in scar tissue at the location of the injury because the drug stimulated growth for the damaged cells. Researchers found that walking balance and coordination in the test subjects also improved after this treatment.
The medical community and families affected by SCI hope that a solution will soon be found that can restore full movement and function for those who are living with a spinal injury.
If you sustained a spinal cord injury and your long-term disability (LTD) claim was denied, or if your spinal injury was caused by a negligent party, call a spinal injury lawyer at Kotak Personal Injury Law. Our knowledgeable team of personal injury lawyers have helped many SCI accident victims obtain owed LTD benefits and/or damages against the negligent party. Don’t go another day without the assurance that every legal step is being taken to get you the disability benefits and compensation you deserve and are owed.