Secondary Conditions of Spinal Cord Injury

When living with a spinal cord injury (SCI), there are more challenges than just not being able to walk. There are other healthcare issues that are very important.

Here are a few of the secondary conditions mentioned by the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation.

  • Autonomic Dysrefexia (AD) – AD can be a potentially life-threatening medical emergency if not treated quickly. AD occurs when the autonomic nervous system is overworked usually from pain, urinary tract infections, constipation and pressure sores. People with SCI, their family members and friends should recognize the symptoms like high blood pressure, headaches, increased spasms and sweating.
  • Bladder Management – If the bladder can’t be emptied normally, a catheter is used to empty the bladder. Some people leave a catheter in all day and urine drains into a bag. Others will do intermittent catheterizations every few hours. I do intermittent caths and empty my bladder through a stoma—a surgical opening through my abdomen.
  • Bowel Care – Similar to the bladder, it must be emptied regularly. Some people have a surgical procedure to reroute the bowels to empty in a colostomy bag. Other people use suppositories to help empty the bowels. I use the suppository method.
  • Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) – DVT is more common during acute hospitalizations, soon after acquiring a SCI. It is a blood clot that forms in the deep veins of the lower leg and thigh. It can be life threatening if the clot breaks away from the vein and travels to the lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism. Doctors can give blood thinners to prevent clotting.
  • Skin Care – People with paralysis are at risk for developing skin problems. Since people do not have sensation or feeling below their injury level, it’s difficult to tell if they have any cuts, abrasions or pressure sores. I’ve had a number of pressure sores—one on my ankle that led to my left foot amputation. Make sure to protect the skin by doing pressure reliefs in the wheelchair or rotating from side to side in bed.
  • Spasticity – Spasticity ranges from mild muscle stiffness to uncontrollable leg movements. Spasticity can be good and bad. Muscle stiffness can be good to help someone transfer from his or her wheelchair to the bed because it builds muscle tone. Spasms can be uncomfortable if they happen in the abdomen or back. Medicine is available to control the spasms.

With proper care and attention to these issues, people with SCI can still have an active and healthy lifestyle!

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Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month

September is Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month in the United States. According to the National Institutes of Health, here are some facts about spinal cord injuries:

*There are an estimated 12,000 spinal cord injuries every year in the United States alone.

*More than a quarter of a million Americans are currently living with spinal cord injuries.

*The cost of managing the care of spinal cord injury patients is $3 billion each year.

*The largest proportion of spinal cord injuries (36.5 percent) occurs during car accidents; more than a quarter are the result of falls; and the rest are due to acts of violence (primarily gunshot wounds), sporting accidents, and other less common causes.

*The average age at injury has risen and is now 42.6 years.
80 percent of spinal cord injury patients are men.

My Labor Day Weekend

The statistics may not mean a lot to you if you don’t know anyone living with an injury. But, here’s my take on things I notice when living with a disability. While spending a couple days in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, I was able to evaluate the accessibility accommodations of the hotel where I stayed.

Although the room was deemed accessible, there are some features that are overlooked. The room was oddly shaped, making it difficult to get my wheelchair to the side of the bed where it’s easiest to transfer out of my chair.

The second challenge was maneuvering over the sliding door threshold to the balcony. A threshold ramp would solve the problem, but using some unused carpet squares work in a pinch too.

Throughout the month, I’ll share more information about spinal cord injury awareness.

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Student with Down Syndrome Begins College Career

Do you remember watching the YouTube video of Rion Holcombe that went viral when he received his acceptance letter to Clemson University? Holcombe is a South Carolina resident with Down Syndrome. That video has nearly two million views!

 It is now time for Holcombe’s dream to become a reality! He moved in to his dorm recently and CBS News was there to capture the excitement. Holcombe is enrolled in Clemson LIFE, a two-year program for students with intellectual disabilities. Programs like this one are becoming more popular on college campuses around the country.

 One of the greatest benefits is the opportunity for inclusion. Both students with and without disabilities can interact with each other, which promotes diversity. This model of education has become very successful and I hope it continues to improve the lives of people like it has for Holcombe.

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AccessAbility: A Bridge to Independence

The disAbility Resource Center is now doing business as AccessAbility. The new name, logo and website were created over several months and signifies the future for independent living.

By empowering people with disabilities, the organization will focus on four core services: advocacy, peer support, independent living skills training and information and referral. Each of these services promote inclusion and will create a better environment for everyone.

I’ve been on the Board of Directors for a number of years and I’m excited to see what AccessAbility will do for the disability community of the Lowcountry. Please watch my video below.

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Dare Devils on Wheels

I occasionally like the need for speed, but some guys take it to a whole new level. Can you imagine using your wheelchair as if it’s a skateboard and you’re doing tricks on half pipes? Or can you see yourself BASE jumping off bridges and building just for an adrenaline rush?

Aaron Fotheringham

Aaron Fotheringham

Aaron Fotheringham, also known as “Wheelz” does extreme stunts. Fotheringham, 22, has cerebral palsy and has been using a wheelchair since he was three years old. He has performed extreme stunts against some of the greatest BMX riders.

Watch him in action:

From one extreme sport to another, Lonnie Bissonnette is flying high. Bissonnette has a spinal cord injury and is a paraplegic BASE jumper. He acquired his injury from BASE jumping in 2004, but continued to have a passion for the dangerous sport.

Lonnie Bissonnette

Lonnie Bissonnette

ESPN’s Sports Center featured Bissonnette recently as he performed a jump off of the same bridge where he was injured.

Take a look at the video:


Both Fotheringham and Bissonnette have years of experience with their sports. I don’t recommend trying this at home.

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Celebrating 24 Years of the Americans with Disabilities Act

This past Saturday, July 26, marked the 24th year of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA was signed into law in 1990 to prevent discrimination against people with disabilities in a variety of areas, including employment, recreation and transportation.

The law has enabled better access to many aspects of life, but there is still a lot of room for improvement. From an employment perspective, the Federal government is working to hire more employees with disabilities. I’m on a committee at my job at SPAWAR to review the policies and procedures for hiring people with disabilities. We’re trying to inform the community that there are these opportunities are available.

The ADA National Network has already begun a year-long campaign to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the civil rights law in 2015. An ADA Legacy Tour began in Houston, Texas and will be traveling around the country. For more information about the monthly activities, check out

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