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Breathing problems for spinal cord injury victims

A spinal cord injury is a life-changing event. While research is constantly exploring new ways for victims of these injuries to regenerate nerves or regain some mobility, so far there is no cure for a spinal cord injury.

The higher on the spine the injury occurs, the greater the suffering and loss of function. If a catastrophic incident left a loved one an injury at vertebrae C-5 or higher, they would likely  face a lifetime of paralysis. It is also highly probable they would need a mechanical ventilator to assist with breathing.

How a spinal injury affects breathing

High-level cervical injuries can compromise the muscles in the chest and diaphragm that control breathing. You may not even think about how those muscles assist with your ability to inhale, to allow your lungs to expand and to cough, all of which are essential to staying alive. Your body automatically breathes, but it can also override autonomic system to breathe faster, breathe deeper or hold one's breath. 

When an accident severs or damages the spinal cord, it prevents the brain from receiving messages from nerves throughout the body. The person's brain can no longer tell the diaphragm to do its job, especially if the injury is between the C1 and C2 vertebrae. Even with a C5-C3 injury, the person may struggle to breathe and may need a ventilator, perhaps for the rest of his or her life.

The serious risks of living on a ventilator

You will face many high-risk situations caring for your loved one in the years to come. Among them are the risks of infection, illness and other dangers related to the use of a ventilator. You will have to make sure your loved one coughs regularly to prevent the buildup of mucus in the lungs, and you may have to assist with this essential action. Pneumonia is a common health complication of patients who cannot breathe on their own.

Keeping the ventilator clean and free from bacteria will reduce the chances of your loved one developing pneumonia. It will be critical that you monitor your loved one for any signs of infection or congestion and that you provide a healthy diet that includes plenty of water. If this seems overwhelming, you are right. Many find it is helpful to have the skilled assistance of a nurse for these and other caretaking duties.

Exploring legal options

If your family member suffered a paralyzing spinal cord injury that requires the use of a ventilator for breathing, the outlook may seem grim. The costs of round-the-clock care can be enormous. The first thing to keep in mind is that medical science is making great leaps in the improvement of the quality of life for those suffering from spinal cord injuries. 

The second thing to remember is that you have options for obtaining the standard of care that will offer your loved one the best chances for improvement. One place to start is seeking compensation through the Texas civil courts from those whose negligence resulted in your loved one's accident.

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