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More Than Five Million Live With Paralysis, New Research Shows

Posted by Jane Akre
Tuesday, April 21, 2009 12:57 PM EST
Category: Major Medical, Protecting Your Family, In The Workplace
Tags: Paralysis, Spinal Cord Injury, Auto Accidents, Stroke, Heart Attack, Cerebral Palsey, Muscular Dystrophy

The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation uncovers 40 percent more than previously thought are living with some form of paralysis. 
Christopher and Dana Reeve


Alexandra Reeve Givens is part of her late father's foundation.
Alexandra Reeve Givens 

IMAGE SOURCE:  Christopher and Dana Reeve/ ABC News Video Web site

Givens Image/ ABC News Web site 


40 Percent More Than Previously Thought  

Research initiated by the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, announced during a news conference today, shows that spinal cord injuries are more common than previously thought and a sudden accident can throw someone into a lifetime of discrimination, pain, poverty, and adversity.

The foundation is named for the late actor Christopher Reeve who suffered paralysis in a horseback riding accident in 1995, and his wife, the late Dana Reeve.

“The numbers are astonishing. One in 50 people, it’s six million, it’s an unheard number we had no idea it was this large” said Alexandra Reeve Givens, daughter of the late actor to ABC News. 

1,275,000 people are paralyzed from spinal cord injuries, nearly two percent of the American population, and more than five times the number previously estimated in 2007.  5.6 million Americans are paralyzed from all causes, the survey finds.

“It’s time today to recognize the size of this community we have the data and push forward for opportunities that haven’t been there before,” said Reeve Givens, who is carrying on the foundation work of her late father.   

The data conducted by University of New Mexico disability researcher Anthony Cahill along with 30 experts in paralysis and statistics, surveyed more than 33,000 U.S. homes and, using a wider definition of paralysis as anyone who has difficulty moving their arms or legs.  Questions took into consideration limited functionality as well as paralysis.    

This is the first time a survey has been taken to count the actual number of people living with paralysis.

The report will be used to convince lawmakers to help the paralyzed seek relief under the Americans with Disabilities Act and to remove barriers that can frustrate the paralyzed and spinal cord injured in the area of employment, access, transportation and insurance coverage to help with necessary equipment and home health aides to cope with daily living.   

One Degree of Separation

The report, One Degree of Separation: Paralysis and Spinal Cord Injury in the United States finds: 

* Nearly two percent of the population reports some form of paralysis. 16 percent of respondents are completely unable to move (903,000 people); more than two million have a lot of difficulty moving; 1.5 million have some difficulty moving.   

* The leading cause of paralysis was stroke (29 percent) followed by spinal cord injury (23 percent).  Accidents at work are the number one cause of spinal cord injuries followed by motor vehicle accidents, recreation, or sports.  Stroke, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy and post-polio syndrome also make up the numbers.  Seven percent were injured while serving in the military. About four percent are victims of violence.

* 54 percent of those paralyzed were males, 46 percent were females.

* While the majority of paralyzed or spinal cord injured are Caucasian, there are a disproportionate number of injured among minority communities particularly African Americans and Native Americans-Alaskan Native.    

* The median age of the paralyzed is 52 years. People with paralysis are living longer than before and living 30 years in a wheelchair is not uncommon.  

 * 60 percent of paralyzed are making less than $25,000 a year while 24 percent makes less than $10,000 a year.  When considering the cost of rehabilitation, special equipment, and home health aides, the vast majority are overwhelmingly poor.  Many are running out of insurance and have to rely on family and friends to help them with cope with everyday tasks. 

Life With Paralysis

Statistics don’t give the full story, so at today’s news conference paralyzed participants shared their everyday living. 

Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI), who is paralyzed, was there to say opportunities are limited for those in a chair.

“The denial society has with spinal cord injuries; society is deprived of their talent. We look at the unemployment numbers of people who could be contributing to society in a meaningful way.” 

Chris Golden, is a former police officer who was struck by a car during training.  She now teaches criminal justice at a high school and says of life in a wheelchair,   “I hate this yet I go to work, though it requires more time and energy. The list of things that are complicated is a long one.  I should not have to enter the restaurant through the rear door because steps impede my ability. No one should have to fight with a mega-million dollar insurance company for equipment that keeps me healthy."

A rehabilitation bike costs as much as a small car, she says, yet is not routinely covered by insurance companies.   “This is just one example of how we would be wise to remember the words of Benjamin Franklin, ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.’  ” 

Alan Brown runs a public relations firm, in Hollywood, Florida. He was injured as a young man diving into a wave in the Caribbean.  He too is fighting the insurance company, which he says is “squeezing us”. 

“These numbers will open the doors to make life much easier and to allow me and my family to live. My insurance company took away my plan and gave me just hospitalization, which is the last place I want to be.  I had 17 urinary tract infections last year. I just want to go forward.  We will all benefit from this.”

 In March, President Obama signed the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Act, providing funds for research and care for the paralyzed.  Christopher Reeve died of heart failure in 2004. Dana Reeve died of lung cancer in 2006.   #  

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