September is Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month. Back in 1981, I didn’t truly understand in specific terms what my spinal cord really was. I soon learned.
Understanding the Mental Impact of SCI
As I laid in a hospital bed wondering why I couldn’t feel my legs, I knew that I had been in an accident. The school bus I was on lost its brakes descending from a mountain in Utah. The summer before I got injured, I ran into a friend at a mall and asked how her cousin was. She was surprised I hadn’t heard about Kelly. She told me that Kelly moved back to Pennsylvania. She dove into a lake, broke her neck and now she’s paralyzed. I remember feeling so sad for my friend, because Kelly was such a vivacious, beautiful young woman.
The day my mom gave me the news that I would no longer walk again, that I was paralyzed from my chest down, I had to take a deep breath. I now understood what that meant because it had happened to my friend six months before me. I remember settling into that negative thinking: what am I going to do? I’m never going to dance. I’m never going to run the hurdles. I won’t be able to participate with my team my senior year. So, how am I going to live my life? I think during the period when we learn about paralysis, these are the questions that run through our minds. As we navigate through this thing called life, we find strength, we find new friendships and we find new life through our paralysis.
The Facts of SCI and Moving Forward
In the United States alone, there are approximately 17,810 new spinal cord injuries each year. Men account for about 78% of all new cases. There are probably 294,000 people living with spinal cord injury in the United States. The average age at time of injury is about 43 years old.
Today, individuals who are paralyzed or sustain a spinal cord injury are fortunate to have power wheelchairs and technology. This equipment allow us to dance, compete in the Paralympics (maybe not the hurdles) and perform as athletes. With this technology, we can determine how to live our lives. People who have a spinal cord injury can find the strength to push forward and to enjoy each day.
Life After a Spinal Cord Injury
There are thousands of groups and organizations throughout the country that help people navigate their spinal cord injury and live their lives the way they choose. Because of the ADA, the Americans with Disabilities Act, barriers are broken for people with SCI who use power wheelchairs for their mobility. You can have a job, live in your community and have a family with a spinal cord injury, Advancements in medicine, technology, equipment, employment, laws and housing have allowed people with SCI greater opportunities to choose a better future, post injury.
I am thankful for my friends who have SCI. They mentored me and I mentored them. We are a strong community of many souls. Without them, I would not be the mother I am, the business leader I am or the advocate I am. I so appreciate them. We all are experts of environment and our SCI. We always share with those who need it. I want to honor a young man who took 15 minutes of his time while I was in the hospital to tell me how he lived his life with a SCI. That moment changed my life forever. So, I say to John: thank you for helping me understand that navigating an SCI throughout life is totally obtainable. It just depended on how I was going to navigate it. There is no one formula that helps any one person. They must truly dig deep within themselves and live their lives however they choose.
About Madonna Long: Madonna works as a disability advocate to educate policymakers and congressional leaders on disability issues. She uses an Edge 3 Power Wheelchair for mobility. She is a mother to four children and lives life on her terms, despite a spinal cord injury. Click here to learn more about Madonna.
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