Living with a spinal cord injury
/ Register & Bee staff writer
DANVILLE, Va. - Living with a spinal cord injury can be a continuous uphill battle.
A spinal cord injury is defined as damage to the spinal cord that results in a loss of function such as mobility or feeling.
Experts say that people with spinal cord injuries face an increased possibility of respiratory problems, pneumonia, urologic infection and kidney failure.
"It depends on how well they take care of themselves," said Chris Moore, a physical therapist at Good Samaritan Hospital in Baltimore. "If they don't take care of themselves, they are going to have a very difficult time out there."
Kathy Gnardellis, a clinical nurse specialist for rehabilitation services at Good Samaritan Hospital, said a patient's attitude will impact on their health.
"The psychological aspect plays an important role in the desire to take care of themselves," Gnardellis said.
According to the Internet-based Spinal Cord Injury Resource Center, there are about 10,000 new victims of spinal cord injury every year.
Statistics indicate that more than 80 percent of people that live with a spinal cord injury are males between the ages of 16-30. Approximately 36 percent of these injuries are a result of motor vehicle accidents.
"Motor vehicle accidents are the number one cause of traumatic spinal cord injuries," Gnardellis said.
Danville resident Kevin Mills, 19, sustained damage to his sixth and seventh vertabrae after breaking his neck and severing his spinal cord in a car accident.
Mills is considered a quadriplegic because his arms and legs are affected by paralysis.
Mills has no feeling or mobility below his chest. He can move his shoulders and arms, but can not move or feel his hands and wrists or anything below his waist.
After his temporary neck brace is removed, Mills is expected to have mobility of his head and neck.
With the help of specialized equipment, such as hand and wrist splints, Mills should eventually be able to perform daily tasks of feeding, bathing, grooming and dressing.
Doctors say it is hard to determine the exact life expectancy of patients with spinal cord injuries.
"The life expectancy of people with spinal cord injury has improved dramatically over the years," said Gnardellis, adding the life span depends on the patient.
The most common cause of death is pneumonia, Gnardellis said.
Gnardellis and Moore stress that prevention of spinal cord injuries is an important issue.
Drinking and driving, along with not wearing seat belts, can lead to serious injuries.
Diving into shallow rock quarries, streams and rivers also can result in spinal injury.
"Any type of injury like this is severe," Moore said.
The highest level of injury is in the C1-C3 category, where quadriplegic patients have little or no movement of the neck or head and often depend on a ventilator for breathing.
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