Any kind of accident has the potential to cause catastrophic injuries, regardless of how it occurs or what the root cause is. There is one particular kind of injury, however, that is almost always devastating, if not completely life altering: spinal cord injuries. These kinds of injuries can affect an individual’s mobility, their bodily functions, and their emotional well-being, among other things.
In recent years, medical technology has come a long way. There are even a few companies who developed exoskeletons; robot like suits that those with spinal cord injuries have been able to use to assist with walking and mobility.
As wonderful as these technological advancements are, there is still no true cure for a spinal cord injury. For many, their best hope is a lifetime of physical therapy and trial medications that may or may not be helpful.
But along with those things, comes a mountain of financial burden that can bury the individual or their entire family in debt and add even more struggles to an already stressful situation.
Fortunately, if you or your loved one’s spinal cord injury was the result of an accident, an Omaha personal injury attorney may be able to help you receive compensation from the guilty or negligent party.
Overview of the Spine
Our entire body depends on the structural integrity of our spine. It is our literal backbone; the thing that keeps our neck and back straight and allows us to hold our head up high. It gives our body rigidity, so that internal organs and tissues have space to function and provides the main highway for our central nervous system and brain to send messages to the rest of our body. It is incredibly complex and, unfortunately, it doesn’t take much to damage it permanently.
The spinal cord is made of semi-cylindrical shaped bones called vertebrae. Most people have 33 vertebrae, though it’s not all that rare for an individual to have an extra vertebrae or two.
Medically, the spinal column is organized into five sections. Because everyone is different, and extra vertebrae are possible, the number of vertebrae in each section may vary slightly from person to person.
Typically, though, each section can be broken down as follows:
- Cervical: Made up of seven vertebrae, beginning at the base of he skull and continuing through the neck.
- Thoracic: The largest section, the thoracic portion contains twelve vertebrae that reach from the shoulders to the mid-back.
- Lumbar: Consisting of five vertebrae, from the middle of the back to the lower back.
- Sacrum: Also containing five vertebrae, but reaching from the lower back into the tailbone area.
- Coccyx: The last portion of the spine which contains four vertebrae that end at the tailbone itself.
Types and Symptoms of Spinal Cord Injuries
Spinal cord injuries occur when the vertebrae that protect the spinal cord are fractured, dislocated, or endure some form of compression, hyperextension, or hyperflexion.
All spinal cord injuries are divided into one of two categories:
- Complete: In a complete spinal cord injury, the victim experiences no function below the injury site. This loss of sensation and movement affects both sides of the body equally and can occur anywhere along the spinal cord.
- Incomplete: An incomplete injury indicates that there is some function below the injury site. It is characterized by varying levels of sensation and movement throughout the body, though one side is usually more affected than the other. An incomplete spinal cord injury can also occur anywhere in the spinal cord.
One of the most common symptoms resulting from a spinal cord injury is paralysis. Defined as a loss of the ability to move in part or most of the body, there are two varieties of paralysis:
- Paraplegia: This type of paralysis can affect all or portions of the victim’s torso, legs, feet, and sexual organs.
- Tetraplegia: More commonly referred to as quadriplegia, tetraplegia affects all body parts from the neck down, including your hands, arms, legs, feet, torso, and sexual organs.
Coupled with paralysis, the victims of spinal cord injuries are likely to have several other symptoms and side effects as well. These can include:
- Loss of respiratory function
- Difficulty or loss of the ability to control bodily functions
- Loss of muscle control (legs, torso, arms, etc.)
- Inability to control the bladder
- Sexual dysfunction
- Fertility issues
- Pain, stinging, or “pins and needles” sensation
Causes of Spinal Cord Injuries
As mentioned before, it is surprisingly easy to injury one’s spinal cord. It can be caused by sudden, unexpected movements, as a result of being shot, or as a result of being stabbed. Spinal cord injuries can also be the product of a motor vehicle accident, be that from a boat, automobile, or aircraft. Below are just a few of the most common accidents that could potential result in a spinal cord injury:
- Boating accidents
- Car accidents
- Faulty products (e.g. malfunctioning machinery)
- Slip and fall
- Truck accidents
- Medical malpractice
The Financial Impact of a Spinal Cord Injury
Financially, the effects of a spinal cord injury can be much more prolific than a lot of other injuries. Costs vary, obviously, depending on how severe the injury is, whether or not surgery is required, how long the individual stays in the hospital, and how much therapy is required.
The injured individual may also require the assistance of a caretaker for a period of time or possibly the rest of their lives, especially if they do not have friends or family members who are able or willing to care for them.
The American Association of Neurological Surgeons estimates that roughly 450,000 people in the United States are living with a spinal cord injury. They also state that on average, 34,000 Americans suffer spinal cord injuries each year. But how much does a spinal cord injury really cost?
Studies conducted by The University of Alabama National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outline the average yearly expenses for several different kinds of spinal cord injuries:
- High Tetraplegia: If you’re diagnosed with High Tetraplegia (C1-C4 vertebrae), your first year of medical bills could total $1,064,716 or more, and each year after that could cost around $184,891.
- Low Tetraplegia: An injury to the C5-C8 vertebrae averaged $769,351 for the first year, and $113,423 for each subsequent year.
- Paraplegia: Paraplegics will pay substantially less than a tetraplegic might, with medical bills potentially reaching $518,904 for the first year and $68,739 per year after that.
- Incomplete Motor Function: If an injury occurs that limits motor function in some way but doesn’t cause paralysis, it could cost the patient $347,484 in the first year, and $42,206 in subsequent years.
In the Event of a Spinal Cord Injury
If you are involved in an accident and think that it is at all possible that a spinal cord injury was sustained, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Call 9-1-1 right away
- No matter what, do not move the injured person’s neck.
- Keep the person who may have sustained the injury still. Prevent neck and head movement by placing heavy towels or coats on either side of their head and neck.
- Check for signs of breathing and a pulse. If neither are present, begin CPR without moving the head. Do not tilt the head backwards to open the airway. Instead, use your fingers to gently lift the jawbone up and forwards.
- If the victim is wearing a helmet, leave it on. Do not remove any article of clothing that could cause movement of the head and neck.
- In some situations, the person may have to be rolled over or moved. This should only be done if the victim is vomiting, choking, or in danger of being injured further in their current location. If this is the case, find at least one other person to assist you, so that one of you can firmly brace the victim’s head and neck while the other one assists with moving their body.
We certainly hope that that you and your loved ones will never have to know the reality of a spinal cord injury. Unfortunately, life is unpredictable and accidents happen.
If you or a family member has suffered a spinal cord injury caused by an accident or the negligence of another person, contact us. You’re in enough pain as it is, you don’t deserve to suffer with years of financial struggles as well. Call us now, at 402-241-5020. We’ll schedule a free consultation to review your case and determine if you may be eligible to seek compensation.
If you or a loved one has been the victim of an accident that caused a spinal cord injury, contact Hauptman, O’Brien, Wolf & Lathrop today for effective, knowledgeable representation on your personal injury matter. Initial consultations with our accident lawyers are always free so you can explore your options without cost or obligation.
For your convenience, we offer home, hospital and nursing home visits. Our team of professionals at Hauptman, O’Brien, Wolf & Lathrop will provide you with the experience, strategy and commitment that protect your rights and claims.