Friday, 17 May 2013

Every eight hours someone is told they will never walk again

It's a remarkable and dismaying statistic: every eight hours, somebody is left paralysed by a spinal cord injury and told they will never walk again.

The reality of a spinal cord injury (SCI) is all the more terrifying given the absence of adequate healthcare for those suffering. This is something that I've written about in the past, and it's something that I intend to continue to publicise. Please join me, then, in supporting Spinal Cord Injuries Day, which takes place today, Friday 17 May.

Raising awareness

Every eight hours someone is told they may never walk again
Spinal Cord Injuries Day aims to raise public awareness of the grave difficulties faced by many people affected by spinal injuries. An excellent campaign is presently being managed by to do just this, and I wholeheartedly embrace it.

Specifically, the campaign aims to ensure further and better medical research into more reliable treatments, to develop improved medical care and support for those affected by an SCI, and to provide guidance and support for those affected by spinal injuries so that they can lead independent lives.

My work has brought me into contact with many people with SCI. Often the diagnosis of paraplegia or tetraplegia comes after a sudden, traumatic and wholly unforeseen accident. Managing the injury takes time, money and a colossal amount of care - and has a huge impact not just on the injured person but on their family as well.

Research carried out by Loughborough University, on behalf of spinal injury support charity Aspire, reveals the harsh truth about the state of care for those affected by spinal injuries. Last year, for example, a fifth of those affected were discharged from hospital and transferred to a care home, irrespective of their age. Why? Because local housing cannot suitably accommodate the injured person's changed lifestyle and needs.

Health care is not good enough

Moreover, these care homes are often understaffed and, frankly, horrible places for those adjusting to their new lives. Loughborough University's research incorporated 20 interviews with residents from care homes across the UK, most of which suggested care workers don't have the necessary experience or know-how to look after people who have suffered such traumatic injuries.

From one interview it transpired that staff had attempted to move a person with spinal injuries using a 'slideboard', only to drop the patient on the floor. The result, adding insult to injury, was that the patient sustained a broken arm. On a separate occasion, that same person was provided the wrong medication - a potentially fatal mistake.

Indeed, as I wrote at the end of last year, my colleague Allison O'Reilly reported in the shocking truth of the story of Roger Hearn, who sustained life-changing damage to his spine in a road traffic accident while on a cricket tour in India. Mr Hearn spoke at a hearing held by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Spinal Cord Injury, and also gave an interview to ITV about his experience. He revealed that care home rules mean that his wife is prohibited from sleeping in the same bed as her husband. Her commitment to her husband's care is inspirational - Mrs Hearn sleeps on the floor next to his bed - but nevertheless Mr Hearn echoes the feelings of many with SCI when he says: "Survival is often just the name of the game."

Advances in technology are beginning to make a difference to those affected by spinal injuries, and it is to be hoped that one day science will provide real solutions. But for now, there is no quick fix. Those with SCI need help; their families need help; those working in this sector, to care for them and find solutions, need help too.

Please, therefore, share the website through social media and get in touch with the spinal cord injury charities involved in the campaign.

We must do our best to make a difference.

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