On October 26, 1985, Marc Buoniconti, a college sophomore from The Citadel, in South Carolina, suffered a spinal cord injury doing what he loved best–playing football. The injury left Marc paralyzed from the neck down.
In the 18 years since his injury, Marc and his father, Nick Buoniconti, a former All-Pro linebacker with the Miami Dolphins, have created a fund that raises money for the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis.
According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Association, approximately 10,000 teenagers and young adults between the ages of 16 and 30 will experience a spinal cord injury each year. Millions more will experience some type of head trauma. Most spinal cord and head injuries can be prevented by following simple safety precautions.
Effects of Spinal Cord and Head Injuries
The spinal cord is a flexible column of bones called vertebrae that protect millions of nerve tissues. The nerves found in the spinal cord carry messages from your brain to the rest of your body. When your spinal cord is damaged, it can result in the loss of:
* movement and muscle control
* sensations (hot and cold)
* feeling pressure and pain
* respiratory function
* bowel and bladder control
Where the injury occurs in the spinal cord determines how much damage and loss of function there is.
Injury to the brain is the most frequent cause of death and disability among children and adolescents. When some types of head trauma occur, you may experience memory loss, speech and motor problems, and personality or behavior changes. In severe cases, you may even lose the ability to think and reason.
Concussions are the most frequent result of head injury, especially if you play a contact sport such as football, baseball, or hockey. Concussions occur when there is a temporary loss of brain function without noticeable structural damage to the brain. There is usually a brief change in your level of consciousness accompanied by dizziness, nausea, and fatigue.
“If you get hit during a game or practice, take it seriously and stop playing,” recommends Paul Lerner, M.D., a neurologist at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, New York. “Any sign of confusion and you should see a doctor for further care.”
Most concussions that teens experience during sports are mild, but if they are severe or occur often, they can cause permanent damage. Former National Football League quarterback Troy Aikman and former National Hockey League player Pat LaFontaine had to end their careers early because of damage caused by concussions.
Living with Spinal Cord Injury
Besides dealing with the physical limitations, teens with spinal cord injuries may experience depression, anxiety, and anger when they first learn of their injury.
“The first step is to educate them about their injury and help them talk about their feelings,” says Robert Moverman, Ph.D., director of psychology at Northeast Rehabilitation Center in Salem, New Hampshire. “It also helps to talk with other teenagers in the same situation. Getting them involved in their rehabilitation and treatment is the first step to giving them back their control.”
Most cities have wheelchair sports leagues and art programs that give teens with severe spinal cord injuries new goals to strive for, and a reason to feel good about themselves.
Protect and Prevent
Contact sports, bicycle accidents, car accidents, diving accidents, and gunshot wounds are the leading causes of spinal cord and head injuries. Here is how you can protect yourself.
* When playing sports, wear equipment that has been found effective at preventing and reducing injury. Make sure all equipment fits well and is in good condition.
* Don’t play a sport to the point of exhaustion. According to the Institute for Preventative Sports Medicine, most injuries occur when a person is tired.
* Always warm up before you play a sport.
* Be aware of your environment. Look out for bumps, holes, or obstacles on the field.
* When riding a bike, skateboard, or scooter, wear a helmet.
* When skiing or skating, follow all the rules on the slopes or the rink.
* When riding in or driving a car, always wear a seat belt. Follow all traffic rules and drive defensively.
* Never drive drunk or get into a car with someone who has been drinking.
* Never play with guns.
* Before diving into a pool or lake, check the depth of the water.
* Don’t be a daredevil or take unnecessary risks.
Not sure if your bicycle helmet fits correctly? Try this. Walk up to a wall while wearing your helmet. If the front of the helmet touches the wall before your nose does, you’re wearing it correctly. Taking a few minutes to check out your equipment, putting on a seat belt, and following safety rules can save you from a lifetime of pain and suffering.