University of Southern California Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
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People with Spinal Cord Injuries

A spinal cord injury can happen to anyone, with causes ranging from illness, sports injury, to the three most common causes of spinal cord injury in the United States today, namely motor vehicle accidents, falls and violence, especially gunshot wounds 1 2 3. Spinal cord injuries reach across all age groups, economic groups, regions, professions, and cultural backgrounds, although the majority of people who receive spinal cord injuries are male (78.2%), Caucasian (67.5%), young adult (average age at injury is 38), and single (53%) and employed (63%) at the time of their injury, changing to 31.7% of people with paraplegia and 26.4% of people with tetraplegia employed one year following their injury 3. (If you like using the Internet, you can examine the current statistics further at Spinal Cord Injury Facts and Figures at a Glance. This regularly-updated page is found on the website of the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center, which is maintained by the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Para información en Español sobre Traumatismo de la Médula espinal, hay una portada para "Medline Plus" de los Institutos Nacionales de la Salud.)

Among our group of study participants were both men and women, people who were young, middle-aged and older; Caucasian, African-American, Latino and Asian-American; people born in the United States and immigrants for whom English was a second language; poor, middle-class and wealthy; employed, volunteer workers, and unemployed; people from a number of different religious backgrounds, some who kept their beliefs and some who changed; married (or in a committed relationship), divorced and single; people who were parents and people without families. Seven were injured in motor vehicle accidents, seven were injured in incidents of violence (most of which involved a shooting), five were injured in falls, and one became impaired due to an illness. Four of our study participants, or 20% of everyone who took part, have passed away since we first met them, three from illness and one in a violent incident. The only thing they had in common was that they had paralysis from spinal cord injuries. The point is, in putting together our study, an effort was made to learn about many different viewpoints of the experience of living with a spinal cord injury. Somewhere among the stories of these people who were interested in sharing their stories so that they could help other people with spinal cord injuries to stay healthy, you will probably find feelings or events that are similar to what you have encountered in your life. What we hope is that by learning about the lives of these people who are not so different from you, you will find information, inspiration or encouragement. The life stories of our participants could serve as a "wake-up call" that will help you to take the actions needed to live a healthier life, keeping pressure ulcers (which means the same thing as "pressure sores" or "bedsores") from becoming serious or avoiding them in the first place!

1 McKinley, W. O., Johns, J. S., & Musgrove, J. J. (1999). Clinical presentations, medical complications, and functional outcomes of individuals with gunshot wound-induced spinal cord injury. American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, 78, (2). 102-107.

2 Putzke, J. D., Richards, J. S., & DeVivo, M. J. (2001). Quality of life after spinal cord injury caused by gunshot. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 82, 949-954.

3 Spinal cord injury facts and figures at a glance (August 2004). Spinal Cord Injury Information Network. Retrieved September 2, 2004