When health officials were initially collecting information about COVID-19 and the people who were most at risk of becoming severely ill, those who suffered from certain health conditions were mentioned as some of the people most at risk of contracting the coronavirus.
People with certain medical conditions, like cancer, diabetes, a weakened immune system, heart conditions or respiratory illnesses, were the groups of people listed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as most vulnerable to the virus.
One group of people who health officials seemed to completely overlook are people who suffer from spinal cord injuries (SCIs). Researchers are now suggesting that people who suffer from spinal cord injuries are at a greater risk of dealing with more challenges in relation to the virus. These complications can occur for people with spinal cord injuries because the injuries cause immunosuppression in paralyzed patients.
The spinal cord is the messenger that informs the brain of any infections, or invaders, coming into the body. When the brain receives these messages, it then releases an immune response to counterattack any potential infections. When the spinal cord is damaged from injury, SCI patients do not receive these types of messages, and an infection has the opportunity to multiply inside the body. This is why people with these types of injuries are at a greater risk of infection from coronavirus.
What is the impact of spinal cord injuries?
The spinal cord is a sensitive bunch of nerves that connects from the base of the brain to the lower back. It travels through the spinal canal, which is a tunnel formed by holes in the bones of the spine. One of the primary functions of the spinal cord in a person’s body is to send messages between the brain and the rest of the body. When the spinal cord is damaged, these messages can no longer travel below the site of the injury. Because the messages sent from the spinal cord allow a person to experience movement and sensation, someone who suffers from an SCI has reduced or no motion or feeling below the level of injury.
SCIs are either complete or incomplete. When an SCI is complete, the person cannot feel anything below their injury. When the SCI is incomplete, the person can experience some feeling or movement in the injured area. People who suffer from SCIs can be affected in a physical, mental, and emotional manner. In terms of physical effects, spinal cord injuries can disrupt many functions of a person’s body.
To be able to breathe and cough, a person needs the strength of muscles like the diaphragm, intercostal, and abdominal muscles. After an SCI, the muscles needed for breathing and coughing are weakened. Coughing is an activity that the body needs to perform to rid the lungs of any secretions or bacteria. If a person has a weak cough or the secretions from the lungs are not cleared, they are at a greater risk of contracting an infection like pneumonia. Depending on the nature of the SCI, a person may need to use a ventilator to help with breathing.
Low heart rate and low blood pressure
The brain is the organ that normally controls heart rate and blood pressure. Because the signals from the spinal cord are not able to get through to the brain, the brain is not able to perform the necessary functions that keep a person’s heart rate and blood pressure normal. As a result, the person suffering from an SCI may have a low blood pressure and a slow heart rate.
What are the long-term effects of SCIs?
Even if some damage sustained from an SCI resolves over time, people with SCIs are likely to struggle with many medical complications for the rest of their lives. Some of the long-term effects that people with SCIs encounter, aside from paralysis, are osteoporosis, infections, and depression.
Osteoporosis is a condition where a person’s bones become weak and brittle over time. A severe case of osteoporosis can cause a bone to break from something as small as a minor bump. Although the elderly are most at risk of osteoporosis, this condition is also common in people who suffer from SCIs. In fact, this condition can be developed within only a few years, depending on the severity of the person’s injury.
The most dangerous aspect of an SCI is its ability to affect multiple areas of the body. With an SCI, the affected area of the body is also the most susceptible to infections. Some common infections that most people with SCIs experience are pneumonia, kidney stones, skin infections, and urinary tract infections.
The truth of the matter is that adjusting to an SCI is a lifelong process. Depression is common in many people who suffer from SCIs. It may take weeks, months, or even years to come to terms with a new reality. People with SCIs must adjust to new physical and mental challenges, as well as complex medical issues.
Although adapting to these changes can produce feelings of helplessness, it is important to know that people with SCIs live meaningful and impactful lives with their injuries. The adjusting period may take some time, but regaining independence and living a life with purpose and meaning is certainly possible.
Did you suffer a spinal cord injury due to medical negligence or an accident? Contact the experienced Mississippi spinal cord injury attorneys at Merkel & Cocke, P.A. today. We serve injured clients in Jackson, Clarksdale, Greenville, Oxford, Tupelo, and throughout the Gulf Coast Region. Call us at 662-627-9641, or complete a contact form to schedule a free initial consultation.
After graduating from the University of Virginia Law School in 1975, Mr. Cocke and Mr. Merkel established Merkel & Cocke, P.A. in 1982. Since that time the emphasis of Mr. Cocke’s practice has progressed toward medical malpractice. At the present time his practice is exclusively devoted to handling medical negligence cases for the plaintiff, either as a result of direct contact by the client or on referral from other attorneys who are not familiar with the handling of medical negligence cases. Mr. Cocke was selected Best Lawyer of the year for 2012 and 2014 in The Memphis area in the field of Medical Malpractice and has been selected a Best Lawyer and Super Lawyer every year since 2006. Learn more about John Hartwell Cocke here.