Even the most conservative estimates of the number of living SCI victims in the United States are in the neighborhood of a quarter of a million. And every year, another 12,000 people survive an accident that causes an SCI.
Without the messages that the spinal cord carries from the brain to the rest of the body, the body cannot function. When the spinal cord is injured, at least some of those messages are impaired or blocked altogether. The location of the injury and its severity determine which messages are interrupted, and which functions are impaired. Both voluntary body actions like walking and involuntary actions like breathing can be affected. A severe SCI at the upper levels of the cord is one of the most severe injuries a person can sustain and still live.
Causes and Victims of SCI
The most common causes of SCIs are:
- Motor vehicle accidents (36.5 percent of all SCIs)
- Falls (28.5 percent)
- Intentional violence (14.3 percent)
- Athletic activity (9.2 percent)
Almost any discussion of SCI will employ two distinctions. The first describes the severity of injury to the cord. “Complete” injuries involve the cord’s entire thickness, destroying all body functions controlled by nerve tissue above the injury. “Incomplete” injuries are those in which some of the cord tissue at the level of injury remains functional, allowing some signals to pass below the injury level.
A second distinction is made as to limb function. A victim who has lost function in every limb is described as a tetraplegic (sometimes called a quadriplegics); a victim who retains the function of the arms is known as a paraplegic.
Levels of Injury
An SCI only impedes nerve transmissions that have to pass through the injured area. If the injury is low in the spinal cord, most of the brain-body communication takes place before reaching the damaged area. If the injury is high in the cord, however, most of the brain’s signals will encounter the damaged tissue before reaching their intended destination.
Unfortunately, the spinal cord is most vulnerable to injury at a high level, where the cord passes through the relatively unprotected neck (the cervical area). The lower areas of the cord are pretty well protected by the structures of the chest (thoracic area) and back (lumbar area).
Cervical spine injuries are the most severe, with the C-6 and C-7 area serving as a rough dividing line between injuries that allow victims to remain somewhat self-sufficient, and injuries that render victims dependent on others. Generally speaking:
- Injuries below C-7 leave victims with some self-sufficiency
- Injuries above C-6 leave the victims dependent on others although advances in assistive technology and treatment may change that
- Injuries right at the C-6 and C-7 level leave victims with some degree of independence if they exert sufficient effort (which requires considerable persistence and mental strength)
Consequences of SCI
SCIs can cause paralysis, loss of sensation, and loss of autonomic functions like breathing and the heart function. Virtually any organ or body system can be impaired, including sexual function.
These problems may be exacerbated by lack of mobility, which can produce a multitude of problems including pressure sores, atrophy and spasticity.
Long Term Prognosis
Victims of severe SCI face a quality of life that is lowered in a variety of ways, not the least of which is a host of psychological problems.
They also face diminished life expectancy. A person who suffers an SCI at the age of twenty may live anywhere from 6.5 to 34 years less than someone without an SCI, depending on how severe the injury is.
SCI victims also face problems in finding and retaining employment. How serious their employment problems are depends largely on the severity of the SCI and, to a lesser degree, on the victim’s personality and outlook.
Legal Help for the Injured and Their Families
Few people can afford to pay the costs associated with a severe SCI using their own finances. A person who suffers an SCI in the range of C-5 to C-8, for example, may face a lifetime cost exceeding $3 million. For most SCI victims whose injuries were caused by someone else, it is essential that they obtain adequate compensation as quickly as possible.
Call the Jabar Injury Law firm to start working on that process. We have successfully recovered tens of millions for our clients in major injury cases throughout Maine, and we know how to investigate, prepare and present a spinal cord injury case to obtain the best result possible, whether that is a settlement or a verdict from the court. Other lawyers know and respect our work.
Call Jabar Injury Law to discuss your case at no cost and without obligation. There is never a fee unless we succeed in holding the person responsible for your injury is held responsible for your recovery.