Wednesday, January 1, 2014

No One is Complete

The common way to treat a spinal cord injury and the resulting paralysis is the same way we treat most traumas in life:

1) stabilize
2) drive acceptance of the situation
3) cut your losses, move on and focus on what you do have

A rational and safe approach, but one that will rarely yield exceptional results in patients or life. This tact is designed to shield the patient from disappointment. Recoveries are rare.

The road is long and hard, but there is hope-- you just need to be relentless in your search for it, and then fight for every inch of progress.

With spinal cord injuries, you are given one of two paralysis categorizations--complete and incomplete. Complete loosely means that no spinal cord activity is getting far past the injury, and incomplete has some signals getting thru, just not enough. While the prognosis delivered are often similarly bleak for both complete and incomplete, historically receiving a "complete" designation was especially so. It was just as finite as it sounds.

Dennis is a complete. However, his progress continues. We will continue to fight for more recovery. There is no finite here, just forward.

Over the past months, we have been fortunate to meet with many progressive minds in the field. We are beginning to hear the same phrase over and over: "there is no such thing as a complete."  What was thought for decades to be dead in the spinal cord, is now hypothesized to simply be dormant. It just needs a supercharged wakeup call to get things working again.

What if we had just accepted --step 2 of the clinical process for treating a spinal cord injury-- Dennis' prognosis and went the traditional route of routine therapy, with a focus on cutting our losses and moving on to our "new normal"? Likely Dennis wouldn't have come as far as he has. He continues to get more hip movement, can now flex his quadriceps, and has faint hamstring activity. There is no explanation or blueprint of why or what it means for future progress, but we are grateful.

In this new era of hope, Dennis has just been accepted into a clinical therapy program that is the best technology out there. It is called Neuro Recovery Network (NRN). It is an intensive form of rehab, 90 minutes, five days a week, that uses a harness, a treadmill, and four therapists manipulating muscles to inspire muscle memory. Eighteen months ago this therapy wouldn't have been available to Dennis. Just a year and half ago, the thinking would have been "he is a complete, there is no hope and there is no reason to believe that this therapy would work."

I have been lucky enough to witness the progress of another complete on the NRN over the past months. The other day he kicked a soccer ball. That he could do this would have been beyond reason not long ago--but with determination, technology, and hard work - he did it. There are more good things to come.

As Dennis starts his new rehab regime in the new year, it makes me think about the other situations in life we are told are "complete," "finite," "absolute." What if they haven't run their conclusion? What if what we thought was dead is just dormant?

In 2014, my hope is that more people ignore the barriers that other people--and ourselves--put around us. None of us are complete. We will only know how far we can take the possibilities if we set to find out.

No comments:

Post a Comment