Spinal cord injuries can have devastating consequences for victims and their families. Virtually every aspect of life – physical, financial and emotional – is different after a spinal cord injury.
To help people understand how profoundly the lives of both victims and their families change after a spinal cord injury, the National Spinal Cord Injury Association (NSCIA) promoted National Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month throughout September.
Facts about Spinal Cord Injuries
According to the NSCIA, there are approximately 200,000 people in the U.S. living with a spinal cord injury today. An American becomes paralyzed every 48 seconds.
Since 1990, motor vehicle accidents have accounted for more than 37 percent of reported spinal cord injuries, followed by falls and acts of violence, the NSCIA reports. Other spinal cord injuries occur at work, in places such as construction sites and in manufacturing warehouses.
A spinal cord injury occurs when there is a sudden, traumatic blow to the spine that damages the spinal cord or the nerve roots within the spinal column. The damage can cause temporary or permanent loss of movement or sensation in the body and affect other bodily systems. Generally, the higher the level of injury on the spine, the more devastating the outcome will be.
The physical changes to the body after a spinal cord injury can be life-threatening long after the initial accident occurs. Autonomic systems, such as the ones that control breathing and body temperature, can be permanently altered, leaving the victim dependent on assistive equipment to survive.
Some living with spinal cord injuries may lose bowel and bladder function, suffer from chronic pain and remain prone to respiratory infections and heart problems for the rest of their lives.
Types of Spinal Cord Injuries
A person with a spinal cord injury may suffer from:
- Tetraplegia – Paralysis in all four limbs (formerly called quadriplegia).
- Paraplegia – Complete or incomplete paralysis in the lower body, sometimes involving the trunk.
Regardless of the classification of the injury, the costs associated with a spinal cord injury are astronomical.
Data from the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center provides estimates for the lifetime costs of a spinal cord injury as follows:
- High tetraplegia – More than $4 million for a 25-year-old and $2.5 million for a 50-year-old
- Low tetraplegia – More than $3.3 million for a 25-year-old and $2 million for a 50-year-old
- Paraplegia – More than $2.2 million for a 25-year-old and $1.4 million for a 50-year-old.
Few families have the financial means to cover the expenses after a spinal cord injury, leaving them dependent on insurance companies, loans or even community fundraisers to help them afford the adaptive equipment, private nursing care and therapies necessary for life post-injury.
Complicating matters even more: While 57 percent of people report being employed before their spinal cord injury, only 11.8 percent have jobs one year after the accident, according to the NSCIA. Most are left trying to pay more bills than ever before, but without a reliable paycheck to help them do so.
This is why it is crucial for those who have suffered spinal cord injury due to another’s negligence to get legal help. In addition to taking steps to hold the at-fault party legally responsible for costs already incurred, an attorney can work with medical and financial experts to assemble a life care plan that provides an estimate of the victim’s future medical needs and related expenses.