Long Term Care for Spinal Cord Injuries: Hope for a Cure in 2017?

Long Term Care for Spinal Cord Injuries: Hope for a Cure in 2017?

Severe accidents happen all the time here in Indiana and Illinois, in all sorts of ways.  People are brutally injured on the job; in a motor vehicle accident; and even shopping at their favorite store.

Often, we discuss the dangers of fatal accidents here on the blog.  But it’s not just the risk of dying in an accident that must be addressed.

Life-Altering, Permanent Injuries

Life-altering accidents can happen in a split second, without warning.  Survivors may not regain full use of their body after a serious accident.

This is permanent harm.  It is a complicated issue to be financially addressed in their accident claims.  Why? These victims will need long-term and life-long medical care and assistance.

Spinal Cord Injuries

Permanent disabilities can result from accidents where the human body has been damaged in the neck or back.  These are “spinal cord injuries” and they usually result in paralysis with the loss of use of bodily function.

Research has motor vehicle accidents as the main cause of serious spinal cord injury.  Others include falls, like those suffered by steelworkers on the job; as well as players in practice or on the field in sporting activities.

Permanent Impairment

For many accident victims who suffer a spinal cord injury, they face a long and frustrating recovery period.  It can take months for the accident victim to receive essential medical treatment to their back, spine, and spinal cord.  The nervous system is not quick to heal.

Afterwards, the spinal cord accident victim will need to deal with the accident results.  They may not be able to walk again.  They may not be able to use their arms or hands.  Some may suffer a loss of bladder function.

Additionally, the cruel reality for many spinal cord victims is that pain and suffering will be a part of their daily life.  Because of the impact on their nervous system in a spinal cord injury, they may suffer tremendous pain for a very long time, maybe the rest of their lives.

For more discussion on the spinal cord and why spinal cord injuries are so serious, see our earlier post, “Spinal Cord Injuries: Tragic Result of Serious Accidents.”

Advancements in the Treatment of Spinal Cord Injuries

Right now, claims and lawsuits seeking justice for those who have suffered permanent harm in an accident from a spinal cord injury must argue for financial coverage sufficient to pay for the victim’s long term care and rehab needs as well as future pain and suffering and lost enjoyment of life, etc.

It’s the best that can be done, right now.  Is there hope for more in the future, like a full recovery for the spinal cord injury victim?  Yes.

Each year, medical researchers are getting closer to finding ways to help spinal cord injury victims regain the use of their limbs and to recover fully from their accident injuries.

Last year, we discussed promising advances in spinal cord treatments.  See, “New Advancements in Treating Severe Spinal Cord Injuries: Great News for Accident Victims.”  These included “brain training machines” and the use of stem cells.

Since then, there have been other hopeful developments in spinal cord injury research.

In fact, many accident victims may soon have their prayers answered.  Even those who suffered their spinal cord injuries several years ago soon may have reason to celebrate.

New Spinal Cord Implant Surgery Creates New Neural Pathways

Last month, an experimental surgery took place in California that has a lot of people very excited who work with accident victims.

It involves implanting a device into the damaged spinal cord of an accident victim.  This may be a real breakthrough for spinal cord injury victims.

What happened? 

In the December 2016 surgery, the patient was a young man who had lost the use of his arm after a serious dirt bike accident.  His neck had been broken.  Now, he’s able to use that arm and hand again – and not just use the hand, but he’s regaining both movement and strength in the limb.

The device is an electrode stimulator and it was placed into his body, just below the site of his spinal cord injury.  The gizmo works by training the spinal cord to find alternative neural paths for transmission of messages to and from the brain.   Also implanted are a battery pack and a small processor.

What does it do exactly? It helps the body re-organize itself.

This is something that the human body naturally wants to achieve, finding an alternative transmission route.  The electronic implant works as a kind of lighthouse, shining a light to the nervous system on how to get that job done.   Dr. Daniel Lu, an associate professor of neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, is the brains behind this project.  Read his discussion of this experimental surgery in the UCLA news release.  From Dr. Lu:

 “We can dial up or dial down different parameters and program the stimulator to activate specific electrodes.  It is an ongoing process that retrains the spinal cord and, over time, allows patients to strengthen their grip and regain mobility in their hands.”

Why is this big news?

One of the reasons the new UCLA implant is so exciting is because of the length of time that passed between the patient’s accident and the surgical implant.  Five years had passed since his motorcycle accident.

As Doctor Lu explains, in the past there was a limited time window to help people who have suffered a spinal cord injury with partial paralysis.  After a few months, a year on the outside, and there’s not much chance that the accident victim will regain any real improvement.

The UCLA implant gives hope to spinal cord injury victims who were injured in accidents that happened several years ago.

It’s a big deal.  Of course, this is still an experimental treatment.  The patient is still being monitored by the UCLA team weekly.  He’s still in rehab. They are still recalibrating the device.

Still, everyone is very optimistic.  It’s believed that the new UCLA electrode stimulator implant will be able to restore 100% hand function to this victim of a 2012 accident.

This is great news!  And it’s giving hope to so many accident victims as well as their families and loved ones.  

Don’t forget to be careful out there!


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