By Lesley M. Hudson, MA
SCIMS Project Director for Shepherd Center
Though some challenges remain for people living with spinal cord injury, Shepherd Center and Spinal Cord Injury Model Systems (SCIMS) data show some significant reasons for encouragement. Especially heartening for people who have lived 25 years or more with spinal cord injury is an increase in life expectancy, as well as an improved quality of life.
Shepherd Center and other elite rehabilitation hospitals designated by the federal government as Models Systems of Care for spinal cord injury have garnered these insights from decades of data collection that is part of the Model System purpose. We gather this data by interviewing discharged patients for an extended period of time after their injury.
For Shepherd Center, which has been continuously designated as a Model System since 1982, the longest length of data collection is 30 years. There are not many of these long-term patients – partly because in 1982 Shepherd did not admit nearly the volume of patients it does now and partly because a certain percentage of the patients seen 30 years ago are now deceased. But there is sufficient data in the entire SCIMS database, which includes Shepherd Center information, to make observations about people who have lived with spinal cord injury for several decades.
Based on that data, here is what we know about their lives beyond injury:
This snapshot of people who have lived for more than 25 years with spinal cord injury indicates that not only has life expectancy lengthened for individuals with SCI since the inception of the SCIMS program in 1972, but overall, many of the leading indicators show the quality of that extended life expectancy is good.
The two areas that continue to present challenges to this group, and to the spinal cord injury healthcare professionals who care for them are level of employment and average number of days hospitalized each year. We are hopeful to see positive trends emerge in these two areas as data collection continues for decades to come.
LESLEY HUDSON, M.A., is the project director of the Southeastern Regional Spinal Cord Injury Model System (SCIMS) at Shepherd Center. She has worked at Shepherd Center since 1976 in various capacities. Much of her career has focused on research conducted under the SCIMS grant. She is also executive director of the American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA), which is headquartered at Shepherd Center. Lesley can be reached at email@example.com.
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Ga., is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury or brain injury. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation and is a 152-bed facility. Last year Shepherd Center had 965 admissions to its inpatient programs and 571 to its day patient programs. In addition, Shepherd Center sees more than 6,600 people annually on an outpatient basis. For more information, visit Shepherd Center online at www.shepherd.org