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Thread: Area residents cope with paralysis

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    Senior Member Max's Avatar
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    Area residents cope with paralysis

    Area residents cope with paralysis
    By Louis Hillary Park staff writer
    October 1, 2002

    On her way to church on a Sunday evening in 1999, Peggy Helm of Stuart stopped in Rio to help an elderly couple involved in a traffic accident. She left the scene a paraplegic, after herself being hit by a car.

    Helm would spend the next 3 1/2 months at Jackson Memorial Medical Center in Miami, undergoing multiple surgeries and rehabilitation. She lost her long-time waitress job, her cleaning business, her house and even her car.

    Each year, about 11,000 Americans suffer spinal cord injuries. Many are left wheelchair dependent with little or no use of their legs (paraplegic) or of both their legs and their arms (quadriplegic).

    In 1995, "Superman" actor Christopher Reeve suffered the most catastrophic spinal cord injury --short of death -- possible, damaging his cord at the base of his skull in a horseback-riding accident. The injury left him paralyzed from the chin down and not only dependent on a motorized wheelchair and 24-hour-a-day care, but also on a ventilator to help him breathe.

    "Damaging the spinal cord is very easy to do," says Stuart neurosurgeon John Robinson, who is part of a program called "Think First, Feet First." He often visits area elementary and middle schools, and even county fairs, to encourage youngsters to think before diving into water, where many head and spinal cord injuries occur.

    "The kids have only a certain level of understanding," he says, "but as part of the demonstration, I take an egg and smash it. That's roughly what happens in brain and spinal cord injuries. Try putting that egg back together. That, they understand."

    Yet in September, Reeve announced that through the intensive application of several therapies (including rigorous daily workouts, aquatic therapy and electrical muscle stimulation) he had regained sensation in much of his body and movement in a finger of one hand.

    "We used to think that the spinal cord died (where it was injured) and there never would be any return of function," says Robinson. "What Christopher Reeve has done . . . shows that even after seven years, someone with a spinal cord injury can show improvement. It's pretty amazing stuff."

    Pretty encouraging stuff, too, for many Treasure Coast residents and therapists dealing with spinal cord injuries.

    "He inspires me. He gives me so much hope," says Helm, who today lives in an accessible condo, is studying social work and psychology at Indian River Community College, and works for Gulfstream Goodwill Industries as coordinator for the Treasure Coast Spinal Cord Injury Support Group. "I think of him as my mentor."

    Colleen Macort, a Jensen Beach paraplegic who recently finished fourth runner-up in the Miss Wheelchair America pageant, says she does not spend her time daydreaming of cures.

    Nor does Stuart attorney Lance Richard, who has been a quadriplegic for 15 years.

    "I'm not bashing Christopher Reeve . . . (but) all this really shows is if you are surrounded by the best people, with the best equipment and do rehab for, like, 10 hours a day, maybe you'll be able to wiggle your toes," says Richard. "I want to be able to do more than wiggle my toes.

    "Besides, most of us don't have those sorts of resources. Most of us have to deal with jobs and everyday life."

    Still, Macort, a divorced mother of two, calls Reeve her "idol" and says, "Seeing what he has done is very exciting. It's very encouraging."

    Hope, resources and information are three things Helm tries to provide through the Treasure Coast Spinal Cord Injury Support Group.

    "Suffering a spinal cord injury obviously is a life-changing experience," says Helm. "And not just for the person injured, but for their caregivers, their loved ones, their spouses -- for everyone in their lives."

    The group meets 7-9 p.m. on the first Tuesday of each month at Gulfstream Goodwill Industries, 1472 Huffman Road in Port St. Lucie.

    Both HealthSouth Treasure Coast Rehabilitation Hospital in Vero Beach and Lawnwood Pavilion in Fort Pierce offer in- and out-patient care for SCI victims that includes physical and occupational therapy, psychological counseling, aquatic therapy, pain management and social services to help them develop accessible living and working environments and access financial aid.

    At Lawnwood, therapists and patients sometimes work in the heat of a large screened room that features three degrees of thickness of carpet, stairs, benches, a restaurant booth, inclines and even a gravel strip replicating challenges wheelchair users face each day. Soon, airplane seats will be added.

    Family support and training are so crucial in the rehabilitation and extended well-being of SCI patients that it makes sense for them to get care close to home, says Bill Holt, Lawnwood's supervisor of physical rehabilitation.

    "We're very proud of the quality of care we provide here," he says. "On any given day, there are stories of life's triumphs right here in this hospital."

    Spinal cord injury facts

    a 52% of spinal cord injury individuals are paraplegic (legs and lower body affected); 47% are quadriplegic (legs, arms and upper body affected)

    a Approximately 11,000 new injuries occur each year.

    a 82% of SCI patients are male.

    a 31: Average age at time of injury.

    a The most common causes of SCI are: vehicular accidents (37%) , violence (28%), falls (21%), sports (6%), other (8%).

    a Only 52% of SCI patients are covered by health insurance at the time of their injury.

    a $152,000: Average first-year expenses for paraplegics.

    a $417,000: Average first-year expenses for quadriplegics.

    Source: The University of Alabama National Spinal

    Cord Statistical Center

    Copyright 2002, TCPalm. All Rights Reserved.

    ==============================
    "It was once written "To thine own self be true". But how do we know who we really are? Every man must confront the monster within himself, if he is ever to find peace without. .." Outer Limits(Monster)



  2. #2
    Senior Member alan's Avatar
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    Have SCI victims gotten older? When I had mine, and for years after, they said the average age of a person suffering an SCI was 19.

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