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spinal cord injury can have a devastating effect on your ability to function physically and on your quality of life. Spinal cord injuries may cause anything from chronic pain to partial loss of mobility to widespread paralysis (tetraplegia) that leaves you bedridden.

The New York personal injury lawyers of Hecht, Kleeger & Damashek, P.C. work with victims and the families of spinal cord injury victims who have suffered traumatic injuries caused by others’ negligence in car accidents, construction accidents, and other types of personal injury accidents. In many cases, spinal cord injuries are caused by a person hitting their head in a manner that wrenches the neck or back, or by a direct blow to the neck, back, or spine. We understand that a spinal cord injury is a life-changing event, and you and your family will need every resource available to you.

With that in mind, we have created a Spine Injury Resource Center that extends the reach of our assistance by offering more detailed information about living with spinal cord injury, as about 273,000 people in the United States do. The New York area is fortunate to have several well-regarded rehabilitation centers for spinal cord injury patients and a variety of community-based support groups.

Spinal Cord Rehab

Spinal cord injuries vary in degree, but generally, there are recognized phases of recovery that every person dealing with such an injury will progress through during their rehabilitation. For each patient, the length of a phase of the recovery process varies.

Spinal cord injuries are generally classified into two categories: complete or incomplete. An incomplete spinal cord injury means that some signals from the brain are still able to reach the extremities, so some level of motion is possible. A complete injury means that the patient has no sensation or ability to move below the level of injury.  Similarly, the treatment of spinal cord injuries may be divided into two categories: acute care and rehabilitation.

Step One: Emergency Medical Care

The initial medical care in any spinal cord injury is focused upon preventing further injury and minimizing the effects of head or neck trauma, usually occurring at the scene by emergency medical services. The spine is carefully immobilized through the use of a neck collar and rigid carrying board upon which the injured person is transported to the hospital for a full assessment. The process follows these steps:

  • Accident Occurs (Vehicle Accident, Fall, Construction Accident or Other)
  • Emergency Services is Contacted and Arrives
  • Patient is Carefully Immobilized to Avoid Further Damage
  • Emergency Lifesaving Techniques are Applied by EMTs
  • Patient is Transferred to Hospital or Spinal Cord Treatment Center

Step Two: Acute Stage Treatment

The most urgent issues for a spinal cord injury patient involve maintaining the ability to breathe, preventing shock, and making sure that the patient does not have complications. Complications may include the retention of stool or urine, respiratory problems, or formation of blood clots in the immobilized extremities.

An SCI patient often remains heavily sedated during the acute care phase so that no movement occurs that could increase the level of damage and diminish the ability to recover. Intravenous medications are administered to reduce inflammation. The injured person may have other injuries, and the period of time in which the acute stage is treated depends to some degree on the scope of injuries.

Once the patient is stabilized, he or she is moved to intensive care or to a regional spinal cord injury treatment center to be treated by neurosurgeons and other health care professionals trained in the treatment of spinal cord injuries. Extensive testing is done to determine the level of damage to the spinal cord.

The spinal cord may be crushed, bruised, or torn. The spinal cord generally will not be severed, but is more likely to be compressed, destroying critical nerve cells needed to send signals to the parts of the body below the level of the injury.

The medical assessment assists in determining the location of the injury, whether the spinal cord has been merely bruised or has been torn, and the correct treatment plan for the specific patient. The doctors develop a treatment plan for the patient based upon that assessment.

Patients who have suffered an injury to the spinal cord at the neck often suffer respiratory difficulty, and cannot breathe without assistance. These are the most serious cases, and will require a more extensive treatment plan. The patient will require ongoing assistance for all basic needs.

  • Patient Assessment in Emergency Room
  • Emergency Care is administered to Address Breathing and Other Critical Issues
  • Patient Transferred to Acute Care Department or Spinal Cord Treatment Area of Hospital

Step Three: Surgery

Some spinal cord injuries require surgical intervention to remove bone fragments, foreign objects, or fractured vertebrae that may be compressing the spinal cord. The surgery will take place once the patient has been stabilized to a level at which he or she can survive the surgery.

The surgery will generally occur as early as is possible. There is some evidence that early surgical intervention (within 24 hours of the injury) may lead to better outcomes for patients who have foreign objects such as bone fragments or other tissue pressing upon the spinal cord.

  • Patient Undergoes Surgery to Remove Foreign Objects (Bone Fragments, Tissue) in Spine
  • Surgery to Repair Broken Areas of Spine
  • Medications Administered to Reduce Inflammation and Promote Healing
  • Patient Carefully Monitored Before, During and After Surgery to Avoid Complications

Step Four: Addressing Secondary Medical Problems (Ongoing)

There are many secondary medical issues that may arise, including deconditioning, muscle contraction, pressure ulcers, bowel and bladder issues, and infections to the respiratory system, as well as blood clots. Most spinal cord injuries affect the bowel and bladder and can lead to serious complications including kidney damage. Many spinal cord injury survivors experience phantom pain below the injury site including freezing and burning sensations.

Depression is common among spinal cord injury survivors. Pain, fatigue, changes in body image, and loss of independence can contribute to depression. It can be treated through counseling and medication.

All of these issues must be carefully monitored so the patient doesn’t develop a condition that could be dangerous or life-threatening.

  • Careful Monitoring of Patient Condition
  • Assessment of Issues Such as Bowel and Bladder Function to Avoid Complications
  • Treatment to Address Muscle Contraction and the Development of Blood Clots or Infections
  • Monitoring of Patient Position to Avoid Pressure Sores

Step Five: Rehabilitation

The process of rehabilitation provides the tools to help the spinal cord injury survivor deal with the most serious effects of spinal cord injury such as reduced bladder function, muscle spasticity and loss of sensation, and advance toward independence. Rehabilitation marks the transition from a focus on medical treatment to a focus on restoring function to handle daily activities. It starts once the patient has recovered to a degree that the process can be initiated.

As a general rule, a rehabilitation facility that has received accreditation from the Rehabilitation Accreditation Commission for spinal cord injury shows that the facility meets a certain standard of care.

The initial phase of rehabilitation involves regaining as much movement in the arms and legs as possible, depending on the location and severity of the injury. The paralyzed parts of the body often are spastic and the bowel and bladder become spastic as well. The pace of rehabilitation depends on the patient. The earlier it begins, the better for the patient, as movement of the limbs is essential to maintain cardiovascular health during recovery.

There are various systems employed to help spinal cord injury survivors regain a level of independent action. Some of the most common processes used in spinal cord rehabilitation centers include the Dardzinski Method used by WalkAmerica, the processes developed by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke Coordination Dynamics Therapy and others, all of which follow a general pattern of treatment and rehabilitation. Newer technologies employed in treating spinal cord injuries allow patients to recover additional functions that were not possible in earlier years.

The team of professionals involved in the rehabilitation process may include a physical therapist, occupational therapist, rehab nurse and psychologist, social worker, a dietician, recreation therapist, and a physician who is a specialist in spinal cord injuries. The patient is educated on what to expect, and the importance of maintaining existing muscle function and mobility.

Work will be undertaken for the patient to restore fine motor skills and to learn adaptive techniques to assist in the performance of day-to-day tasks. This process generally takes several months to complete, and the patient will be busy learning new skills and training on how to operate in daily life with impairments.

  • Patient Transferred to Rehabilitation Facility or Spinal Cord Rehab Center in Hospital
  • A Full Rehabilitation Program Developed for Patient
  • Physical Therapy Begins
  • Occupational Therapy
  • Intensive Work with Rehabilitation Nurse
  • Training in the use of Medical Equipment
  • Education of Patient on Condition and How to Maintain Health and Mobility
  • Family Trained to Assist Patient
  • Ongoing Monitoring of Progress by Spinal Cord Injury Specialist

Step Six: Recovery

The recovery may vary in length, but generally, the level of recovery of function is reached within about six months.

Many patients recover more than their doctors anticipate. The spinal cord had redundant pathways to send signals and people can regain motor skill function even after injuries that damage 90% of the neural pathways.

Some people may experience minor improvements in condition for up to a year after the injury.

  • Patient is Assessed for Final Level of Recovery
  • Final Training Prior to Transfer Home

Step Seven: Home Care

After the rehabilitation process is completed, the injured person has been trained on how to operate in life with his or her impairments, and is ready to return home. The home must be refitted in many cases so that the individual can move about in a wheelchair, and various areas of the home may need adjustment, including the bathroom.

  • Home Refitted to Accommodate Medical Equipment
  • Patient Transferred Home
  • Ongoing Training for Driving and Other Advanced Tasks
  • Careful Monitoring of Patient Condition (Ongoing)
  • Join a Spinal Cord Injury Support Group

The costs of rehabilitation and ongoing care for spinal cord injury survivors make it imperative to understand your legal options if your injury was caused through the negligence of another party. The attorneys at Hecht, Kleeger and Damashek can review your accident at no charge and explain your legal options.

Notable
Results

$9,000,050

Construction Workers Injured on an Exterior Scaffold

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Spinal Cord Rehab Centers in New York, NY

A patient who has suffered a spinal cord injury (SCI) will begin some form of physical rehabilitation as soon as they are able. As their condition improves, they are likely to begin a more extensive rehabilitation program.

A spinal cord injury rehab program is designed to help the patient recover the highest level of function and independence possible. Psychological services address the patient’s emotional needs to help them achieve the best overall quality of life obtainable.

Once a spinal cord injury survivor progresses beyond the acute care phase of recovery, the patient is discharged from the hospital to a specialized SCI rehabilitation center.  Spinal cord rehabilitation centers provide services to spinal cord injury patients on an inpatient or outpatient basis.

New York City

HSS Spine Therapy Center
405 E. 75th Street
New York, NY 10021
(646) 714-6850The Hospital for Special Surgery works directly with spinal injury patients’ physicians to develop specialized programs in a variety of manual and therapeutic exercise techniques, including the Schroth Method and Pilates.

Mount Sinai Hospital
1450 Madison Avenue at 100th Street
New York, NY 10029
(212) 241-5417Mount Sinai Rehabilitation Center works with patients who have complex medical needs, and devotes four beds in the SCI unit to individuals who are ventilator-dependent. Outpatient services and specialized programs are also available after hospital discharge. Mount Sinai’s spinal cord injury unit is accredited by the Commission on the Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF).

NYU Langone Medical Center
550 First Avenue
New York, NY 10016
(212) 263-6033 (Therapy services)The Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine at NYU Langone offers a comprehensive, patient-centered SCI program that is CARF-accredited and designed to help each patient meet their rehabilitation goals through treatment plans tailored to their unique needs and circumstances. The Rusk Institute is ranked No. 9 among U.S. News Best Hospitals for rehabilitation, the highest ranking of any NY hospital on the list.

Upstate New York

Burke Rehabilitation Center
785 Mamoroneck Avenue
White Plains, NY 10605
(888) 99-BURKE (992-8753)Burke’s Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program serves adolescent through elderly patients with traumatic spinal cord injury, spinal tumors, and degenerative diseases. Burke Rehabilitation Center, part of the New York Presbyterian Healthcare System, also offers education sessions designed to teach the patient’s family to assist in the recovery process.

Helen Hayes Hospital Center for Rehabilitation Technology
51-55 Route 9W North
West Haverstraw, NY 10993
(888) 707-3422The HHH Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program addresses all of the complex effects of spinal cord injury, including paraplegia and quadriplegia, respiratory disorders, bowel and bladder dysfunction, skin care and wounds, spasticity, and emotional and psychological issues. Rehab staff includes a board-certified physiatrist with specialty in SCI Medicine, and Certified Rehabilitation Nursing specialists. Helen Hayes Hospital Center is operated by the New York State Department of Health and is affiliated with the New York Presbyterian Healthcare System.

Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital
1270 Belmont Avenue
Schenectady, NY 12308
(518) 382-4500Each patient of Sunnyview’s Center for Spinal Cord Injury receives an individualized treatment plan that consists of an array of rehabilitation services, including specialty services designed specifically for the patient. Sunnyview provides services for people of all ages, from pediatric patients to seniors. Sunnyview has earned CARF accreditation for its Comprehensive Integrated Inpatient Rehabilitation Program (CIIRP), as well as for its brain injury and stroke specialty programs.

Spinal Cord Injury Support Groups in NY

The National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center says there are approximately 12,500 new cases of spinal cord injury (SCI) each year and that about 276,000 people in the U.S. are living with a spinal cord injury.

Less than 1 percent of people who suffer a spinal cord injury experience complete neurologic recovery by the time they leave the hospital. About 45% suffer from some loss of movement or sensation in the arms, hands, trunk, legs and pelvic organs. Approximately 21% have incomplete paraplegia — some loss of movement or sensation in all or part of the legs and/or pelvic organs.

In New York City and in Upstate New York, many organizations provide support to SCI victims and their families. Among the spinal cord injury support groups in New York are:

Montefiore Medical Center
111 East 210th Street
Bronx, NY 10467

(718) 920-4321

The spinal cord injury support group, “The Challengers at Montefiore,” meets at regular intervals to deal with issues occurring in the community as well as access and integration to other national and regional organizations.

National Spinal Cord Injury Association Greater New York Chapter
Mount Sinai Hospital
5 East 102nd Street
New York, NY 10029

Jim Cesario at (212) 824-8369 or Sugenny Flowers at (212) 584-2500

Meets: 1 to 2 p.m. on the first Friday of the month in the Do-IT! Conference Room at Outpatient Rehab.

The website says: “People with SCI, their families and friends are welcome to come and share their experiences, problem-solve and work together to empower independence and maximize quality of life after spinal cord injury.” Specially trained peer mentors with SCI/Disorder run each meeting.

Upstate New York
Burke Rehabilitation Center
785 Mamoroneck Avenue
White Plains, NY 10605

Mark Herceg, Ph.D., (914) 597-2889 or Stella Marino, LMSW at (914) 597-2321

Meets:4:30 to 6 p.m. on the third Wednesday of the month in the Wood Pavilion, Bldg. No. 7, Harris Parlor

The Spinal Cord Injury Support Group is free and open to anyone in the community affected by a spinal cord injury, including patients, families and caregivers.

Helen Hayes Hospital Center for Rehabilitation Technology
51-55 Route 9W North
West Haverstraw, NY 10993
Matthew Castelluccio at 845-786-4950

Meets: 6 to 8 p.m. the third Wednesday of the month in the 2nd floor Dining Room

Among an array of support groups that are open to the community at Helen Hayes is the Spinal Cord Injury/Amputee group, which is open to individuals living with SCI and amputation, their families and friends. Meetings include guest speakers and open discussions, and are available via webcast.

Long Island Spinal Cord Injury Resource Center
Testeverde Fund for Spinal Cord Injury
3445 Edgerton Avenue
Wantagh, NY 11793

(516) 221-9255

The LISCIRC crisis team is prepared to visit with families, talk with them about their ordeal, and provide information about where to go for help with housing, wheelchair accessibility issues, Social Security, Medicaid, etc.

Spinal Cord Injury Network of Central New York
635 James Street
Syracuse, New York, 13203

Tammy Bartoszek at (315) 464-2337 or Maria Froio at (315) 247-0927

Meets: ARISE
This group does not meet on a regular basis. Call for information.

St. Charles Hospital
SCI & Caregiver Support Group
200 Belle Terre Road
Port Jefferson, NY 11777

Lorraine Sawyer at (631) 474-6489

Meets: 6 to 8 p.m. in the 1st floor board room.

The group is for individuals with spinal cord injuries and/or disorders and their caregivers. There will be food and refreshments. Please RSVP.

WellSpouse Association
63 West Main St, Suite H
Freehold, NJ 07728

(800) 838-0879

WellSpouse groups provide peer support and education about the special challenges and unique issues that spousal caregivers face every day. Find groups in New York.

Apparelyzed is a free spinal cord injury peer support website run by individuals with spinal cord injuries. It publishes a variety of information and hosts discussion forms about more than a dozen SCI topics.

Backbones provide free support for people with spinal cord injury and their families. The network of users facilitates telephone, in-person or web-based connections, and encourages growth by the sharing of experiences and ideas. See also @backbones on Twitter.

CareCure Community is a group of more than 70 forums, blogs and articles sponsored by Rutgers University.

The Spinal Cord Injury Information Page is a free and informative resource for those living with a spinal cord injury or other disabling injuries or diseases of the spine. It is meant to be a “best of the web” site for SCI health and caregiver information.

Note that the circumstances of support groups may change with little notice. If your support group is not listed here or different information is appropriate, please contact the Hecht, Kleeger & Damashek, P.C.’s Spinal Cord Injury Resource Center to let us know.

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