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A survey about paralysis victims released today by the the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation reveals that 5.5 million people, nearly 2 percent of the United States population, have some kind of paralysis. Of these, 23 percent sustained spinal cord injuries.

The most noteworthy finding of the survey is that as many as 25 percent of the paralyzed population lives in poverty, with annual household incomes below $10,000. The cycle of poverty is frequently set up by the long delays the paralysis victims face in qualifying for Medicare benefits. They can’t work, their spouses often have to quit their jobs to become caregivers, and they lose their health insurance. The lack of health insurance results in untreated medical conditions, such as pressure ulcers from lack of mobility, leading to the development of additional health care needs, causing medical bills to grow and digging a hole from which many will never escape.

We have seen this happen to many car accident victims who sustain spinal cord injuries resulting in quadraplegia or paraplegia or other serious neurological injuries. As attorneys pursuing claims for these accident victims against auto liability insurers, we retain life care planners and economists to prepare reports demonstrating the costs to provide medical care and replace lost wages over the remainder of the victims’ lives. The figures usually come to millions of dollars for a lifetime of support. So when the car accidents have been caused by uninsured motorists, or when the liability coverage limits are insufficient, the victims will never have adequate compensation for their damages, and will at some point depend on governmental benefits to survive.

The situation for these spinal cord injury victims is bleak, but not without all hope. Organizations such as the Reeve Foundation are raising money to support research for medical breakthroughs and to promote legislative advances. And the decision by the Obama Administration to lift limitations on stem cell research offers promise for scientific advances in the areas of treatment. Hopefully, this study will focus attention on this large population of paralysis victims and their needs.

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