Paralysis can be one of the most frightening and difficult conditions to experience and adjust to. Generally, paralysis is a term for the loss of function or control of muscle movement. When functioning normally, your brain is connected to your body through a network of special cells called neurons which comprise the nervous system. This allows your brain to send signals to your muscles for movement and your muscles to send feedback signals to your brain. When the nervous system is compromised, such as when your spinal cord or brain is damaged, the signals cannot be transmitted and muscle control is lost. Loss of ability to move may be accompanied by a loss of sensory feeling in the affected area. Almost 6 million people in the United States are currently living with some degree of paralysis.
There are four primary causes of the various types of paralysis. These include head injury, spinal cord injury, stroke, and multiple sclerosis. Spinal cord and head injuries usually occur with trauma from an automobile accident, assault, gunshot or knife wound, military duty, or high impact sports. Strokes and multiple sclerosis paralysis may result in long-term health conditions.
A head injury can cause brain damage when the brain collides with the inside of the skull, causing tearing or bruising. If the injury occurs in particular areas, it can damage parts of the brain that control motor function for certain areas of the body.
Spinal Cord Injury
Since your spinal cord is composed of nerves which connect your brain to every other part of your body, damage to the spinal cord can cut the transmission between the signals in your brain and their reception in muscles. The higher up the spinal cord an injury occurs, the more severe the paralysis may be because the portions of the body below the injury are almost always the parts affected.
A stroke can occur when a blood clot restricts oxygen to your brain. Strokes can range from mild to severe, and are often fatal. When oxygen does not reach parts of your brain, the cells without access can begin to die, causing brain damage.
Multiple sclerosis is a chronic condition, not an injury. When someone has this condition, their body attacks the nerve fibers in the spinal cord, damaging them and preventing communication between the brain and the rest of the body.
Although more rare, there are many other conditions which can cause paralysis, including spina bifida, cerebral palsy, Parkinson's disease, botulism, Lyme disease, and cancer, among others.
Classification and Diagnosis
Paralysis comes in many forms. It can be temporary, lasting a few minutes or hours, or permanent, which may require a complete lifestyle change. It can affect either a small area, referred to as localized paralysis or a large one, generalized paralysis. Paralysis may also be partial, which means that there is some sensation or ability to move but not total function or control. Complete paralysis may destroy muscle function and sensation. Additionally, paralysis can affect only one side of the body (unilateral paralysis) or both sides (bilateral paralysis).
Usually, classification of generalized or widespread paralysis refers to the areas of the body that are affected by the condition. There are four terms used to describe generalized paralysis are as follows.
- Monoplegia refers to the paralysis of one limb
- Hemiplegia is the paralysis of one arm and one leg on a particular side of the body
- Paraplegia refers to the paralysis of both legs and possibly the pelvis and/or lower back
- Quadriplegia or tetraplegia is widespread paralysis of both legs and arms
Facial paralysis, or partial paralysis of the face, can occur as result of a condition called Bell's Palsy
In order to diagnose paralysis, a physician uses various technologies. They may use an X-ray to determine damage to the bones in the spine or neck, or a Computerized Tomography (CT) scan or Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan to evaluate the extent of brain or spinal cord injuries. In addition, they may use a myelography which implements a special dye to check the nerves in your spinal cord, making the contrast show up more clearly on an MRI or CT. Alternatively, for some types of paralysis, an electromyography is used to measure electrical activity in your nerves and/or muscles.
Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for permanent paralysis. In most cases, treatment involves management, physical and cognitive therapy, and long-term care. Mobility aids, such as manual and electric wheelchairs can be given to paraplegic and quadriplegic patients, while braces called “orthoses” may be implemented to support individual limbs or joints that are paralyzed.
As technology develops, so do innovations to assist with victims of paralysis. Systems called Environmental Control Units can be installed in the home to allow voice activation of temperature controls, lights, and phone service. In addition, computers that can be controlled with the mouth or head can allow those with full paralysis to connect online. Cars can be adapted to allow for hand-controlled operation.
Extensive physical therapy may help a patient regain some of their mobility and function along with helping them learn to use their new mobility devices. Electrical stimulation and neuroprosthetics, which create artificial connections between the brain and body, are currently in testing and development.
In addition to managing the paralysis itself, there are often medical conditions which may arise as complications of paralysis. Often people with spinal cord injuries or general paralysis experience bladder and bowel control issues because the nerves that control these functions are located at the base of the spinal cord. In most cases, a catheter will be required and a colostomy bag may be necessary to manually drain urine and feces.
If the injury occurs high enough on the spinal cord, a patient's diaphragm may be compromised, and they may not be able to breathe. In this case, a ventilator may be required to control lung pressure and breathe for the patient. Medications may be prescribed to reduce involuntary muscle spasms or long-term pain that may be associated with the paralysis.
The psychological effects of paralysis are well-documented. Depression is not uncommon in paralysis patients, especially when they are first diagnosed. Research shows that rates of depression can be 2 to 3 times higher in paralysis patients than the average population. Medication and cognitive therapy can help improve quality of life, and the majority of patients will regain mental health after an adjustment period.
How to Bring a Paralysis Personal Injury Claim
People who have suffered from paralysis not only have to deal with the physical and psychological ramifications of their injury, but they will most likely also have to shoulder the burden of multiple costs. Immediate treatment for paralysis alone can be wildly expensive. Added to that, paralysis victims often have to deal with the financial stress of time off from work, care for dependents, and an uncertain future in which the victim may not be able to earn what he or she previously made.
In some cases, paralysis cannot be avoided due to a medical condition or sudden stroke, but often paralysis occurs due to trauma or accidents which could have been prevented. When this is the case, there may be a party liable for the injury. For instance, if the victim was struck by an automobile or motorcycle, the negligent party may be the driver. If the victim was injured at work, the company for which they work may be proven to be negligent. Sports are often organized by local or national governing bodies which set safety procedures to protect players. In order for a lawsuit to be successful, the plaintiff must be able to prove that their injury was fully or partially caused by another negligent party.
Medical malpractice can also cause paralysis. Since paralysis can stem from tumors or infections, misdiagnoses of these conditions can allow the paralysis to develop or become more severe. In some cases, physicians, nurses, or EMTs may improperly move a patient with a spinal injury or fail to take precautions when a spinal injury should be suspected. Moreover, a physician may prescribe incorrect medication or a nurse may wrongly administer a medication which can lead to a stroke and possible paralysis. If you have developed paralysis from one of these situations, you may be able to successfully claim medical malpractice.
An attorney with extensive experience in personal injury law can help paralysis victims claim the full amount that they deserve for their injuries and suffering. Plaintiffs can sue not only to cover their medical expenses, but also for the loss of future earnings, and continuing care costs which may last a lifetime. In addition, they can sue for compensation for pain and suffering damages, along with the loss of enjoyment of life.
Contact a Paralysis Attorney in Denver
If you or a loved one have suffered paralysis from someone's negligence, it's time to explore your legal options. Attorney Jeremy Rosenthal will fight to get you the settlement you deserve. Call him today at 303-536-3820 or contact him online.