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The Financial Impact of a Spinal Cord Injury

A spinal cord injury, or an SCI, is terrifying. There are immediate concerns about a person’s ability to survive. Patients have difficulty recovering from these injuries. When a person lives through the experience, their lives can be forever changed. They may have loss of mobility or sensation, or they could have full paralysis in their limbs.

Without question, an SCI has a devastating, traumatic effect on both the physical and mental state of the survivor. What is not often discussed is the financial impact of an SCI. Spinal cord injuries are very expensive. Surviving one is difficult enough, but recovery costs a small fortune. The word “fortune” is not a hyperbole. The first year alone can cost as much as $1,000,000. Let’s take a look at some of these expenses to see how recovering from, and living with, an SCI is so expensive.

Healthcare Costs

Healthcare is expensive in this country. We’ve all heard stories of hospitals charging $400 for a single Tylenol pill. Treatments are costly, regardless of the condition.

The expense required to rescue and rehabilitate an SCI survivor in the first year is enormous. The higher up you go on the spine, the more costly it is to treat the injured person.

According to a 2015 study, the costs for people who have suffered paralysis after an SCI are:

  • High Tetraplegia – $1,064,716
  • Low Tetraplegia – $769,351
  • Paraplegia – $518,904
  • Loss of Motor Function at Any Level – $347,484

These figures represent only the first year of treatment. There are everyday costs associated with an SCI survivor, and they break down as follows:

  • High Tetraplegia – $184,891 per year
  • Low Tetraplegia – $113,423 per year
  • Paraplegia – $68,739 per year
  • Loss of Motor Function at Any Level – $42,206 per year

Consider a high tetraplegia sufferer alone. The average American family makes less money per year than it takes to keep this person alive and functioning.

These numbers may seem outrageous, but think of what it takes to rescue an SCI sufferer. They require immediate, urgent care to stay alive. This can include trauma care, coma treatment, use of ventilators, etc.

Once the initial steps are taken, it’s time to rebuild the patient as much as possible. The survivor will go through surgery, and some survivors need several surgeries. Each of those operations is an individual procedure with its own price tag.

After the doctors have saved and preserved as much mobility as possible, the patient must now enter rehabilitation services. Essentially, this person has a completely new body now, and they must relearn how to use it. These services can take months or years, and they may require in-home care.

On a day-to-day basis, SCI survivors can expect to take a variety of medicines. Depending on the paralyzed quadrants, medication could include painkillers, beta blockers, medicines to help regulate digestion, and the list goes on.

Finally, a paralyzed person needs mobility equipment. From canes to wheelchairs, these items are not cheap. Those who retain the use of their arms can manage with a standard chair. People who suffered more severe trauma will need motorized wheelchairs, and there are a variety of options. Some are controlled with a joystick, and others with a breathing apparatus. The more severe the injury is, the more costly it is for the person to remain mobile.

Adjacent Healthcare

When one ailment leads to another ailment, this is called “comorbidity.” SCI survivors often suffer new injuries along with their paralysis. They can find themselves with bed sores, muscle atrophy, digestive problems including waste issues, and a whole host of potential problems.

Comorbidities must be treated as a separate illness, which requires more costs. Once they are treated, steps must be taken to ensure that they don’t return or worsen, which will be expensive treatments all on their own.

Loss of Income

Having an entirely new body changes every aspect of your life. Employment is almost certainly going to be affected by a paralyzing injury. There are, of course, manual labor jobs that the survivor simply cannot do anymore, but even office jobs can be affected. The simple ability to get from one side of the office to another will change. Paralysis can impact any occupation. A writer who cannot type will need adaptive equipment. A professional musician or dancer could be out of the arts forever.

Many SCI survivors never work again. Statistics show that only 11.7% have jobs in the first year after their injury, and only 35.2% have work 20 years after their accident. Even if someone can secure or retain work, they may be limited in what they can do. Physical disability can make it impossible to advance in the company.

Ancillary Costs

Expenses come in unexpected places, and they don’t always fall directly on the patient. Close friends and family will want to stay near the injured person, showing support, getting information, and just generally being available. This costs money. Loved ones may need to take time off work and pay for travel or hotel expenses.

Once there, they will need to stay fed. Snacks, restaurant trips, and groceries will cost money, especially if the person is not staying at home. Inside the hospital, things can get boring. Games, books, music, and movies are going to get expensive as they wait for and watch over their loved one. As their loved one regains clarity, that person will need to stay engaged and entertained, which creates more expense. It is a fallacy to consider these unnecessary, luxury items. Staying engaged with joyful activities is an important part of recovery.

Home Remodeling

Now that the SCI survivor has been sent home, they must consider an entirely new living arrangement. In its current state, the home may not be suitable for a person with limited mobility. The house may need a complete overhaul, no longer resembling its original form. Everything must be reconsidered and potentially remodeled. Kitchens and bathrooms, entrances, exits, and stairs – these are just a few things that may need to be changed. It may be necessary to move to another home.

Even without serious alterations, there may be costs. Furniture may need to be updated, such as a modified bed. Appliances need to be replaced with disabled-friendly models. It may be necessary to move everyone in the house around. Upstairs people may need to shift to the downstairs bedrooms, and so forth. Much of that work can be done without expense, but it could also require new furniture or help from movers. Remember, insurance may not be able to cover all of these modifications, and the price tag will be large.

New or Modified Vehicles

Anyone who has lost the use of their legs must alter their vehicles. There are ways to move acceleration and breaking systems up to the steering wheel. Those with limited use of arms or hands will need a van with a wheelchair lift installed. Whether updating a current vehicle or buying a completely new one, disabled-friendly cars are expensive.

All vehicles deteriorate over time. Eventually, you will need to update the disability modifications or buy another disabled-friendly vehicle, either of which will be expensive.

In-Home Care

Perhaps the survivor lives alone, or maybe their loved ones cannot be permanent caregivers. Whatever the case, it may be necessary to have constant in-home care for the SCI survivor. These services are expensive, and they may not be completely covered by insurance.

Speak to an Attorney

As you can see, it is unreasonable to expect the average person to afford the high, continued expenses associated with the rescue and care of a spinal cord injury survivor. Insurance will help, but it has limitations. Survivors and their families need a continued, reliable, and large income to maintain quality of life. That may be possible only through a personal injury lawsuit. Survivors cannot be expected to suffer more than they already have. Talk to a lawyer today about your accident, and they may be able begin the process of recovering the damages you need.

If you or a loved one have suffered an SCI, call us today at (607) 228-8404. You can also reach out online. We have the skills to investigate your case and seek compensation for your injuries.

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