Spinal cord injuries exact a staggering cost

2012-09-17T18:11:00Z Spinal cord injuries exact a staggering costBy John Doherty Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
September 17, 2012 6:11 pm  • 

It’s been 10 days since Tulane safety Devon Walker injured his cervical spine when he collided with a teammate as they tackled a Tulsa receiver. Surgery to stabilize the fracture followed a day later. Since then, not a word about progress. And when it comes to tragedies such as these, no news is bad news.

If Walker had some type of return of motion and/or sensation in his limbs, the news would have been trumpeted.

Which it was two years ago when Luther College (Iowa, NCAA Division III) defensive back Chris Norton suffered a similar injury on the same day Rutgers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand more famously suffered his.

Norton had emergency spinal stabilization surgery the day he was hurt. Before he awakened from anesthesia, his family had been told the damage was so severe, that he had only a three percent chance of ever experiencing any movement in any of his limbs.

Upon awakening, though, he was able to move both arms and within two months his toes. In the last week, he started walking independently with a walker.

In November of last year, Norton received CBS’ annual “Courage in Sports” Award — a relatively encouraging course for Walker to emulate.

I say “relatively” because Norton’s progress has been lengthy, anything but easy, and remains far from complete. Furthermore, it would not have been possible without the funds provided by the NCAA’s catastrophic injury insurance policy.

At least Walker has that going for him, no worries about the enormous medical bills his care will engender into the foreseeable future.

Other victims of spinal cord injury are not so fortunate. Norton has seen as much during his ongoing rehabilitation process. While he has experienced no financial or time ceilings on his care, many of his fellow patients have. You see, the vast majority of spinal cord injuries do not occur in organized sports or any recreation activity for that matter.

According to the Mayo Clinic, 40 percent are the result of motor vehicle accidents — almost always involving young males, 25 percent falls — usually by the elderly, 15 percent violence — typically from gunshot and knife wounds, and eight percent sports and recreation. Across that spectrum, 25 percent are alcohol-related.

In all, there are 11,000 spinal cord injuries per year nationwide. The annual first-year cost for a spinal cord injury is $200,000. However, that number more than doubles if the injury is to the cervical spine, with barely half the victims having private insurance to cover those costs.

To assist the many not as well funded as he is, Norton — and Luther College — have started the SCI (spinal cord injury) CAN Project. If you are interested in making a donation, contact Norton directly at nortch01@luther.edu.

John Doherty is a certified athletic trainer and licensed physical therapist. This column reflects solely his opinion. Reach him at ptatcsport@sbcglobal.net. Follow him on Twitter @JDohertyATCPT.

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