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The Permanence of Spinal Cord Injuries and Coping by Rebecca Koltun

Updated: Apr 3

Spinal cord injuries (SCIs) are unlike any other injury sustained to the body. They are caused by trauma to the head or the neck resulting in damage to the neurons in the spinal cord. What differentiates this injury from other injuries in the body is that neurons uniquely cannot regenerate like other cells in the body.

Every single SCI is different. What often defines the nature and severity of a SCI is two things: level and completeness. The level of a SCI is determined by where along the spinal column the injury the damage was. This is labeled by vertebrae number. Secondly, spinal cord injuries can be complete or incomplete. A complete SCI means that there is no sensation or motor function below the level of injury. Conversely, an incomplete injury means that there could be motor function and/or sensation below the level of injury. For example, my SCI, due to a life-threatening ski accident in March 2021, is C1-C2 complete. These two vertebrae are the very base of the skull, therefore I don't have any movement or sensation beneath my neck. Also, since the diaphragm is innervated beneath my level of injury, I am unable to breathe on my own.

Coping with the permanence (until science comes through with some type of cure) of SCI is very difficult, as most can imagine. While it is very easy to focus on the loss associated with my injury, I actively try to focus on what I have not lost and what I have gained. I used to live my life at a very fast pace, jam-packing each day with many activities. Now I live at a much slower pace. As a result of this, I've spent a lot more time with my friends and family. I know that my life-threatening accident has pushed my friends and me to have deeper and more meaningful conversations, strengthening our friendships. To add on, because I'm much more reliant on my parents now for my medical and non-medical needs, I spend a lot of time at home with them. And we have become a lot closer as a result and I know them better than I ever thought I would. While SCI comes with pain and loss, things like this allow me to continue living my life without being weighed down by nostalgia and melancholy. I never forget about everything that I have lost and there's not a day that goes by when I don't feel an ache in my heart when I think about the way things used to be before my injury, but I choose to carry on anyway. I get up every day, get into my power wheelchair, and keep moving forward. I have done a lot with my life since my injury and I plan on doing a lot more.


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