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Is there a cure for SCI?

The question that serves as the title of this page is frequently asked by accident victims and the victim’s family in the days following an accident that resulted in a spinal cord injury. Unfortunately, the answer is almost always “No.” On this page, we will examine spinal cord injuries from the perspective of health care providers and attorneys who might be called on to give advice regrading the possibility that a “cure” has been found for the victims of these injuries.

Types of spinal cord injury

The prospects of recovery from a spinal cord injury (SCI) is largely determined by the type of injury to the cord itself. In general, SCI are usually described as belonging to one of the three types presented below.

Compression without severing of the cord

Compression of the spinal cord is usually seen in auto or motorcycle accidents where there is an injury to the vertebra in the neck, chest, or lower back that results in a displacement of a vertebra and/or a disc from their normal position causing pressure on the cord. This type of injury has the highest probability of the victim’s recovery to his or her pre-accident status, but may require multiple surgeries and extensive physical therapy.

Partial transection or incomplete severing of the cord

Partial transection of the spinal cord is a much more serious than a compression injury and such injuries can occur following accidents or acts of violence such as knife or gunshot wounds. The prognosis for a full recovery is much lower than for a compression injury. Treatment usually involves surgical repositioning and stabilization of the injury to the vertebrae followed by months of physical and occupational therapy.

Complete transection of the cord

As its name implies, complete transection of the spinal cord means a total separation of the two ends of damaged cord created by the injury. Regardless of how the injury happened, complete transection of the spinal cord at any level (cervical, thoracic, or lumbar) can be life-threatening and carries very little hope of even a partial recovery to the victim’s pre-injury levels of activity. In addition to the probability of multiple surgeries, those surviving the immediate post-injury period will require, at a minimum, months of physical therapy as well as extensive remodeling of their homes to accommodate the assistive technologies such as wheelchair ramps and patient lifts that will need to be installed.

Post-injury treatment of SCI

Once the initial rounds of surgery and rehabilitation therapy are completed, many SCI patients will refuse to accept the verdict of their professional medical care providers that they have made as much recovery as is possible. Many of these patients will then search for “non-traditional” treatments that will “cure” their injury. Among the most extensively-advertised of such “therapies” is stem cell therapy.

To put it in as few words as possible, stem cell therapy has never resulted in even a partial “cure” much less a complete recovery! This does not seem to concern the operators of such “clinics” or “research institutes” who advertise extensively on the Internet or the telephone solicitors who target SCI victims with offers of “medical tourism” that will include a visit to a facility that offers stem cell therapy, for a very high price. What these facilities forget to mention is that there has never been a report in any reputable medical journal the of a case where stem cell treatment, or any other “nontraditional therapy,” has “cured” a spinal cord injury.

In conclusion, the search for an effective treatment for the paralysis caused by traumatic spinal cord is ongoing at research centers worldwide. Unfortunately, there is no medication, treatment, surgery, or transplant that has been shown to be effective in treating this condition. Spinal cord injury victims, and their families, should be aware of the growing number of fraudulent claims that are being made by overseas “clinics” and “alternative medical centers” that are extensively advertised online and by telemarketers of “medical tourism.”

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