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09:30 AM

Spinal Cord Injury Model System Fact Sheets Offer Tips on Respiratory Health and Return to Driving

By Lesley M. Hudson, MA
SCIMS Co-Project Director

The Spinal Cord Injury Model System (SCIMS) program, in which Shepherd Center participates, produces a series of fact sheets as resources for people with spinal cord injury (SCI), as well as their families. In previous blogs, I have featured topics such as pain management and adaptive sports and recreation. Now, I will showcase information on adapted driving and respiratory health.


In collaboration with SCIMS, experts from the adapted driving program at Shepherd Center created a useful fact sheet, which covers a series of factors that someone with an injury needs to consider before deciding whether driving is an option:

  • severity of the injury and level of function
  • procurement of an adapted vehicle
  • available assistive technologies
  • meeting the expense of equipment and vehicle modifications.

A driving rehabilitation specialist can provide an evaluation to decide if you are ready and able to drive. Here are some requirements for a return to driving:

  • You do not need narcotics to control pain.
  • You have good vision.
  • You can control muscle spasms and tightening caused by your injury.

When you meet with a driving rehabilitation specialist, he or she will evaluate your:

  • medical data
  • driving history
  • vision
  • strength/range of motion
  • ability to transfer from your wheelchair
  • wheelchair/mobility device loading
  • behind-the-wheel driving to assess equipment options.

Additional elements in the process of driving include how to pay for needed equipment and the best time to begin the process.

“It is our sincere hope that the information in this new fact sheet will inspire readers to explore their options for transportation and driving,” says John Anschutz, ATP, RET, manager of the Shepherd Center Assistive Technology Center. “We hope the information and resources presented will help ease concerns about whom to see, what resources are available and how to approach the maze of options without spending too much or getting overwhelmed. Shepherd Center’s Driving Program gets great satisfaction with every person who regains the freedom and independence that personal transportation can foster.”

Respiratory Health

Before your injury, you probably breathed with very little thought. After injury, breathing can be more challenging because it involves motor function that may be damaged. Signals sent from the brain may no longer be able to pass beyond the damage done to the spinal cord, and this deficit can lead to health issues such as bronchitis, pneumonia and sleep apnea. Bronchitis and pneumonia are lung infections, while sleep apnea occurs when the back of the throat collapses and then opens repeatedly while you’re asleep. Loud snoring is a sign of sleep apnea, as is feeling very sleepy during waking hours.

To reduce the chances of having any of these conditions, consider the following:

  • Avoid all exposure to tobacco smoke, even second-hand smoke.
  • Stay hydrated when you have a respiratory infection.
  • Manage your weight. Diet and exercise can help.
  • Avoid close contact with people who may have a cold or the flu.
  • Get a flu shot annually, and get vaccinated against pneumonia.

For additional information on both of these fact sheets, as well as the entire series available from SCIMS, go to:

LESLEY HUDSON, MA, is co-director of the Southeastern Regional Spinal Cord Injury Model System at Shepherd Center. She is also the former executive director of the American Spinal Injury Association. She has worked in a number of administrative and research positions at Shepherd Center since 1976.

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.