Gunshot Wounds to the Spinal Chord

There Is Hope after Injury with Hard Work and Determination

Gun violence has been a prominent issue lately, with the mass shootings in Sandy Hook and Aurora being the main focus of the public. While gun violence is one of the leading causes of death in the United States, more people are injured non-fatally than those who are fatally injured. However, those individuals who survive gun violence are not mentioned as a part of the gun violence debate.

“They really forget about the people that survived,” said Uni, a man who has been in a wheelchair for 13 years. “People don’t know what we have to go through when we wake up in the morning.”

Although violent crime rates have fallen in recent years, the number of people killed and injured by firearms still remains high. According to the FBI Uniform Crime Report, 47,856 people were murdered in the United States by firearms between 2006 and 2010. According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, the number of injuries caused by firearm was 73,883 in 2011.

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A spinal cord injury is one of the most devastating wounds that can be caused by gun violence. According to BrainandSpinalCord.org, about 12,000 new cases of spinal cord injury occur each year. Violence accounts for 15.1 percent of spinal cord injuries, most of which are due to gunshot wounds. In the United States, there are approximately 259,000 people in the United States living with a spinal cord injury. Although most spinal chord injuries result in paralysis, there is still hope for the victims because of rehabilitation.

Treatment of spinal cord injuries can be divided into two stages: acute and rehabilitation. The acute phase begins once the injury occurs, and lasts until the person is stabilized. The rehabilitation phase occurs once the person is stabilized and is ready to begin working on their independence.

In the rehabilitation stage, treatment is designed in order to help the individual function in everyday life. “All spinal chord injuries are different,” said a representative from BrainandSpinalCord.org. “A different plan has to be designed to help each patient function and succeed in everyday life.” Rehabilitation often includes helping the patient understand their injuries, understand the details regarding care and learn how to accept a new lifestyle. Also, the patient learns independence in everyday activities, such as bathing, eating, dressing, grooming and wheelchair use.

First, the patient will be helped to regain strength in their arms and legs. “An occupational therapist will help you with fine motor skills,” said BrainandSpinalCord.org. “You will be taught new ways of accomplishing every day tasks. You will learn to use adaptive equipment such as a wheelchair and equipment that can make self-care and every day tasks easier.”

Next, depending on the needs and personal preferences, the patient may be transferred to a rehabilitation facility or allowed to receive daily physical therapy at home. Serious injuries require a period of recuperation in a rehabilitation facility so that all of the patient’s medical needs are attended to.

“My schedule is all day on Thursdays,” said Brandon, who has been in a wheelchair since December 2012. “There’s wheelchair therapy in the morning, psychological group and activities that teaches you how to function in society. Then I do physical therapy later, showing me how to stand up again and take steps again.”

Brandon is an inpatient at the MedStar National Rehabilitation Network, one of many rehabilitation centers in the District of Columbia. There, he is able to take part in the many programs that the MedStar NRH has available. The center has various sophisticated equipment to assist their patients, including adaptive treadmills, functional electrical stimulation bikes, standing frames, adapted weight training and aquatic devices.

Although every spinal cord injury varies, it is important that the patient maintains their hope in their injuries improving. “Most people aren’t as determined as I am,” said Brandon. “From day one I told myself that I will not be limited to this wheelchair for the rest of my life. It’s not going to happen.”