Hey everyone! I know this month has been awareness post after awareness post but that's because September is the awareness month for three very important things to me. It's Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Awareness Month, it is also National Suicide Prevention Month and finally it's also Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month. Now you all are probably wondering why am I an advocate for people with an Spinal Cord Injury (SCI). That is because I also have an SCI.
If you're a family member or a long time friend of mine you're probably thinking, "Felicity doesn't have a SCI. She wasn't in a car accident or in the hospital for a long period of time? How could she have a SCI and I not have known?" That's because I didn't even know that a back injury I sustained in high school came under the category of a SCI until recently (shoutout to my new friend Claire Freeman for helping me come to that conclusion). Here's my story.
When I was fifteen, I was involved in a freak dance accident which caused an incomplete T12 vertebrae break. My back completely went out on me to where I was in a state called paraparesis or partial paralysis. My left leg in particular was affected by this injury. This injury happened about five times in the course of four months in different but similar ways and each time it did my T12 would break a little bit more. I was lucky enough to not need a spinal fusion because I was young and sometimes these injuries heal on their own without the need for a surgical intervention. So when I found out my back was broken I took time off dance like I was supposed to and then I carried on with my training. I was more cautious and avoided things that I knew would hurt my back. It wasn't until I was nineteen did I start to realize how weak my legs were becoming. My ankles would randomly just twist, I was sustaining one injury after another after another. I was having pain basically from my T12 down. MRI's never showed anything wrong with my ankles or knees which brought me to the conclusion and eventual diagnosis of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS. That's another story for another time). Over the summer I decided to see if the pain in my back had anything to do with why my legs were so weak. And sure enough, there was nerve damage and my broken back classified as a SCI. And so when school began I a made the agonizing decision to start using a wheelchair full time, versus just when I was in pain. I decided to do this to prevent any other injuries that would put me out of commission for longer than I can afford. My university isn't exactly wheelchair friendly but I am managing the best that I can. I can walk and dance but it causes me pain and so I do my best not too. The most I walk during an average day is about three hours (to/from/at work. I do go to the gym and use the stationary bike on my off days. I also do physic 3x a week).
Anyways, enough of my blabbering, in today's post I am going to be talking about the different levels of a spinal cord injury and how injuries to different areas affect your limbs. I am also going to be talking a bit about my two main SCI role models.
To begin with let me explain anatomy of the spine for you. The spine are the bones running from where your neck begins all the way down to your posterior. A single spine bone is called a vertebrae and between each one are discs which are basically cartilaginous joints that allow for slight mobility in the spine. They also act as a shock absorbers in the spine and act as tough ligaments that hold the vertebrae of the spine together. The bridging bones from the spine are called the pars pars interarticularis and in between the pars are the spinal nerves which can be seen in the image below. In the very center of the spine is the spinal cord. Everything that I just explained surrounds the spinal cord and protects it from injury.
In your spine you have four levels, Cervical, Thoracic, Lumbar, and Sacral. The easiest way to remember how many vertebrae are in each level is you have breakfast at 8 (Cervical), lunch at 12 (Thoracic) and supper at 5 (Lumbar/Sacral). Each vertebrae is numbered as you can see in the image above.
Each level of your spine controls different functions such as arm movement, abdomen movement and leg movement.
Here is a list of the different levels of SCI and what effects it would have on your body.
(Note: Most people with Cervical SCI injuries are tetraplegic meaning that all four limbs are affected. There might be movement in some parts of the limbs or sometimes none at all).
1. C1 - C4
This is the most severe of the spinal cord injury levels. There is paralysis in arms, hands, trunk and legs and people may not be able to breathe on his or her own, speak, cough, or control bowel or bladder movements. Requires 24-hour-a-day personal care and need help with all ADL (activities of Daily Living).
2. C5 - C8
SC injuries to this region are still pretty severe but not as severe as C1-C4. A person with this level of injury may be able to breathe on their own, speak normally, raise his or her arms and bend elbows. Breathing is impaired and they may have little to no control of the bowel or bladder, but may be able to mange on their own with special equipment. Likely to have some or total paralysis of wrists, hands, trunk and legs but typically people with this level of injury can move in and out of wheelchair and bed with assistive equipment and drive an adapted vehicle.
(Note: Most people with Thoracic SCI are paraplegic meaning that it's only their legs that are paralyzed).
1. T1 - T5
SC injuries to the thoracic region generally affect the corresponding nerves affect muscles, upper chest, mid-back and abdominal muscles. Arm and hand function is usually normal. Most people with this injury use a manual wheelchair and can learn to drive a modified car. Some people can stand in a standing frame, while others may walk with braces.
2. T6 - T12
SC injures to the lower thoracic region affect muscles of the trunk (abdominal and back muscles) depending on the level of injury. Typically you'll have normal upper-body movement, be able to cough productively and fair to good ability to control and balance trunk while in the seated position. Little or no voluntary control of bowel or bladder but can manage on their own with special equipment. Most people with this injury use a manual wheelchair and can learn to drive a modified car. Some people can stand in a standing frame, while others may walk with braces.
(Note: Not all people with lumbar or sacral SCI need mobility aids. It all depends on what nerves were damaged and whether or not it was a complete or incomplete fracture).
1. L1 - L5/S1 - S5
SC Injuries to this region generally result in some loss of function in the hips and legs. Little or no voluntary control of bowel or bladder but can manage on their own with special equipment. Most people with this injury use a manual wheelchair and can learn to drive a normal car or a modified car. Some people can walk just fine while others may have to walk with braces. People with S1-S5 SCI can walk normally without the need of a mobility aid.
SCI Role Models
There are many amazing role models for people with an SCI such as the YouTubers Jordan Bone, Chelsie Hill or the Broadway Star, Ali Stoker. Today I'm going to talk a bit about one person in particular who isn't as well known as the other people I've just mentioned. Her name is Claire Freeman.
I first heard about Claire through a YouTube documentary that was done on her life. That documentary really resonated with me (I've even quoted her a few times) and so I reached out to Claire via Instagram. I wasn't really expecting a reply but you would not believe my surprise and happiness when I got a reply. We got started chatting and we've ended up Skyping a few times. It's so nice to chat with her in real time. She's so kind, caring and by far the sweetest woman I know. I look up to Claire so much even though there's a nineteen-ish age difference between the two of us. It's her mentality and strength in being a tetraplegic that helps me get through adjusting to my new life as a wheelchair user. So Claire, if you happen to be reading this, thank you so much for being my friend and for someone I can look up to. You have no idea how much it means to me, to have someone who truly understands what I'm going/have gone through. I can't wait until we meet in person one day.
And that concludes my post on SCI's. If you liked this post don't forget to give it a +1 on Google+, share with all your friends and leave me a comment below if you also have this condition or you know someone who might. See you all in a week.
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