Living with Spinal Cord Injury

Now that I have written eleven posts, a few themes have emerged. I feel most confident writing about disability rights issues because of my expertise in disability policy and advocacy. I feel most nervous writing about Guatemala and Guatemalans, not only because of my lack of knowledge but because I worry that I could misrepresent the complex stories of an entire country made up of approximately 14,757,316 people. I worry that my descriptions of painful histories of violence and persecution do not give enough credit to the resiliency and courage of the Guatemalan people.  For similar reasons, I have felt hesitant to write about another group who has a suffered great physical and emotional pain, and has persevered with tremendous tenacity–people living with spinal cord injuries.

Prior to researching funding opportunities for German Choc, I did not know much about spinal cord injury beyond its basic definition. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, “spinal cord injury can be caused by any number of injuries to the spine, ranging from motor vehicle accidents, falls, sports injuries (particularly diving into shallow water), industrial accidents, gunshot wounds, assault, and other causes. The symptoms of a spinal cord injury are weakness and sensory loss at and below the point of the injury.”

If a person has a “complete” injury, he or she will have no sensation or ability to move at or below the injury, but if the injury is “incomplete,” the person will have some sensation or ability to move at or above the point of injury. This fact means that people with spinal cord injuries could be injured at the same level of vertebrae, yet experience great differences in their abilities to experience sensation and/or movement. I do not know whether German Choc’s injury is complete or incomplete, I simply know that he is paralyzed from the waist down when he was shot in the spine. His injury could be at the thoracic (chest) level or lumbar sacral (lower back) level.

Recently, I have had the opportunity to learn more about German Choc and how I could better advocate for funding his health needs. I have been corresponding with John Bell, who is the co-founder and Director of Transitions Foundation of Guatemala, which provides holistic health, rehabilitation, education, and job training services to Guatemalans with disabilities. John Bell and German Choc became friends while German was undergoing rehabilitation at Transitions. German needs several items for his medical and personal care, and this list is linked in the first Source Note.

In addition to learning more about German Choc’s spinal cord injury, I have discovered the diverse and vibrant virtual community of people with spinal cord injuries in the United States.  One of my favorite things about the disability rights movement is how technology includes and connects people who have traditionally been excluded, and the Internet is teeming with social mentoring networks, blogs, podcasts, and video archives where the spinal cord injury community convenes, shares stories, and motivates one another.

Present in the spirit of shared stories is humor, and  Teal Sherer, an actress with paraplegia has created  “My Gimpy Life,”  a webseries detailing her “awkward adventures as a driven actress trying to navigate Hollywood in a wheelchair.” The first episode “Accessible” debuted on July 31, 2012,  and it is linked in the Source Notes below for your amusement. Enjoy!

Source Notes

1. “Spinal cord trauma.” U.S. National Library of Medicine. June 16, 2010. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002061/

2.  Russell, Grahame and Annie Bird. “Special Fundraising Appeal–Health needs and Family Store for German Chub Choc.” Rights Action. November 16, 2011 http://www.rightsaction.org/action-content/special-fund-raising-appeal-health-needs-family-store-german-chub-choc 

3. Spinal Cord Injury Information Pages: Quadriplegic, Paraplegic & Caregiver Resources. http://www.sci-info-pages.com/

4. New Mobility. http://www.newmobility.com/index.cfm

5. “My Gimpy Life.” Youtube. 2012.  http://www.youtube.com/user/MyGimpyLife

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