Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A Cure 'Will Come' for Paralysing Spinal Injuries

An American spinal injury expert has been updating Bermuda medics on the latest developments in the care and rehabilitation of patients who have suffered debilitating injuries to their spines.

Dr. Kevin O'Connor, medical director of the spinal cord injury programme at Boston's Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, also met with health insurance professionals on the Island.

A handful of patients from Bermuda end up at the Boston hospital each year to receive specialist treatment.

Care for spinal injuries is a highly specialised area of medicine and is continuously under review as efforts are made to find a cure for one of the most debilitating medical conditions.

The late Superman actor Christopher Reeve was one of the most high-profile sufferers of a spinal cord injury. After being thrown from a horse he was riding in 1995 he was left unable to move his body from the neck down.

Mr. Reeve remained hopeful that stem cell research would one day succeed in finding a way to restore the ability of movement in those who had suffered a spinal cord injury.

"There is no cure for spinal cord injury at the moment. But whether one comes through stem cell research, or another method, a cure will come. It is a matter of time," said Dr. O'Connor.

In the meanwhile the role of the spinal cord injury medical professionals is to find ways of keeping patients healthy and in good shape.

"We try to have people with these injuries come to our hospital as soon as possible," said Dr. O'Connor.

Getting patients to the specialist unit at Spaulding is important to avoid complications setting in such as bed sores and infections. As patient treatment progresses, the future needs of the injured person are assessed.

During his visit to Bermuda, Dr. O'Connor noted the hilly topography of the Island, an important factor to consider when working out what abilities and mobility assistance a Bermudian patient will require when they return to the Island.

The Boston hospital treats around five or six patients from Bermuda each year.

While on the Island, Dr. O'Connor met with health insurance companies that have previously sent spinal injury patients to Spaulding to inform them of the hospital's programme and the latest research, and also spoke with health professionals at King Edward Memorial VII Hospital on "research, finding a cure for spinal cord injury, interventions and updates".

He said: "The number one cause of spinal injuries in the USA is falls, but road accidents and diving accidents account for a large percentage of such injuries in Bermuda.

"Some people will not make a full recovery. What we try to do is make people as independent as possible.

"The hardest thing is adjusting to the injury. I see several hundred people with spinal cord injuries each year. Imagine what it is like not not be able to feel your sock or shoe or even your leg. So many things require an intact spinal cord."

Dr. O'Connor said: "We teach patients about themselves and how to adjust to the changes in their lives."

By Scott Neil