Your Spinal Cord Injury: 
Hope and Recovery

© David L. Goldin, J.D., M.B.A.

There is a great deal that can be done to maximize recovery from spinal cord injury (SCI) with planning and sufficient resources. Christopher Reeve (Superman) suffered a C-2 level spinal cord injury in an equestrian competition in 1995. Before his death in 2004, Chris Reeve taught us how hope, determination and sufficient resources enable recovery from even the most devastating spinal cord injury. In late November, 2000, more than five years after his injury, Chris was able to voluntarily move one of his fingers. Based on the level of his injury, this was supposed to be impossible. Chris describes in his book, “Nothing Is Impossible,” an MRI of his brain as he was making movements with his fingers:

“The electrical impulses commanding both the tongue movement and finger movement came from the correct part of the motor cortex of the brain. This finding was also completely unexpected, because the conventional wisdom was that after a severe trauma to the central nervous system the brain would have to find alternate ways to communicate with the body below the level of injury.”

Chris Reeve tells how his physical exercise program resulted in improvements so he could move his index finger of his left hand and push with his left foot. According to Chris Reeves’s doctor, the most impressive movement was a demonstration of sphincter control–extremely significant in Chris’s condition because it is positive proof that there are intact functioning pathways all the way from the brain to the bottom of the spinal cord.

The ASIA examination is a test devised by the American Spinal Cord Injury Association to assess sensation and motor function. Chris Reeve’s improvement on the ASIA scale went from scores of Motor Function, Light Touch, and Pinprick, of 2%, 8% and 6% respectively, to 10%, 56% and 22%.

Dr. John W. McDonald, M.D., Ph.D., Reeve’s doctor speculates on this remarkable improvement of his patient:

“One possibility is that a small number of nerves around the site of his injury were left alive but somehow atrophied. The exercise may be reactivating these fibers, allowing signals to pass between the body and brain. Or, the activity is inducing new nerve connections to grow around the site of injury . . . . The best explanation for this level of recovery is that signals from Mr. Reeve’s muscles are reaching his brain.” 

Much can be achieved if you, like Chris Reeves and other unknown survivors, have determination and the resources to allow 24/7 professional care and a comprehensive rehabilitation plan. Unlike brain injury cases, in SCI litigation the nature and extent of the injury is rarely in doubt. The legal focus is to ensure you have the best treatment and rehabilitation possible. No matter how debilitating your spinal cord injury, you are still the same person you were before, as the title of Christopher Reeve’s first book attests, “Still Me.” In his second book, Nothing Is Impossible, Chris Reeves describes the impact of this realization:

“I look back with almost indescribable gratitude at the moment when Dana (his wife) knelt by my bedside and said, ‘you are still you, and I love you.’ Her simple but profound declaration became the basis for my autobiography, Still Me, which was published in 1998. But in describing that scene I never mentioned one critical detail: In response to my thoughts about ending my life, she said that we should wait for at least two years. And if I still felt the same, she could find a way to let me go. On one level, you could say she used the oldest selling technique in the book: you offer customers a free trial, a free sample, with no obligation and no money down, in order to get them on the hook. On another level, a much deeper one, where our love and respect for each other has always lived, she knew that I was only in the first stage of natural reaction to tragedy. Asking me to wait was the perfect course of action. It was giving me room, the freedom to make a choice, yet knowing what that choice would be in time.”

There are always good reasons for hope. No one is “wheelchair bound.” People who use wheelchairs are not always in them. They drive, swim, fly planes, ski and do many activities out of their chair. They may sit on the ground playing with children or pets and otherwise partake in normal day-to-day activities. Nobody goes to bed in a wheelchair. 

In the context of your rehabilitation, choosing a rehabilitation center is very important. In fact, the greatest indicator of long term survival of people with SCI is the type of rehabilitation facility. There is an excellent source on the Internet to provide you with the relevant inquiries to be made of a prospective rehabilitation center. See this link.

In appropriate cases, vocational rehabilitation is also essential to assist you in going back to work or becoming as productive as possible. The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) promotes inclusion of people with SCI to mainstream day-to-day society. Your rehabilitation should include experts in vocational rehabilitation and occupational therapy who can provide vocational counseling, skill enhancement and job research for you.

The father of rehabilitation, Dr. Howard Rusk, wrote: “. . . once a person overcomes a disability through his own courage, determination and hard work, he has the depth of spirit you and I know little about. . . . (this) is a branch of medicine in which the patient has more power than the doctor in setting limits and possibilities . . . .” 

It is the job of your lawyer to obtain resources for you so that you have the opportunity to overcome your own disability. Recovery from spinal cord injury is the rule, not the exception. As stated in a leading journal of neuroscience, Brainwork: “In spinal cord injury, fatalism is finished, replaced by the certainty that scientists will find ways to help spinal cord victims recover.” You are entitled to the best care and compensation in dealing with your spinal cord injury.

If I can answer your questions, please call (619) 235-6344 or (866) headlaw (toll free) or e-mail me to set up an appointment for a free consultation.