Center customizes gadgets to assist spinal injuries

Most of these people are injured in auto and sports accidents, falls and industrial mishaps. It's estimated 60 percent of these individuals are 30 years old or younger, and the majority of them are men. Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) is damage to the spinal cord that results in a loss of function such as mobility or feeling.

The spinal cord does not have to be severed for a loss of functioning to occur. In fact, in most people with SCI, the spinal cord is intact, but the damage to it results in loss of functioning. SCI is very different from back injuries such as ruptured disks, spinal stenosis or pinched nerves.

A person can "break their back or neck" yet not sustain a spinal cord injury if only the bones around the spinal cord (the vertebrae) are damaged, but the spinal cord is not affected. In these situations, the individual may not experience paralysis after the bones are stabilized.

The Shepherd Center is a private, not-for-profit, catastrophic care hospital in Atlanta, Ga. It's one of the nation's leading rehabilitation hospitals, specializing in the treatment of people with spinal cord injuries, acquired brain injuries, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain and other neurological conditions.

James Shepherd, who suffered a paralyzing spinal cord injury himself, founded the Shepherd Center in 1975. Today the center has 120 beds and sees more than 850 patients each year. Since 2000, the Shepherd Center has been ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of the leading rehabilitation hospitals in the country. More than half the patients treated at the Shepherd Center come from outside of the state of Georgia.

Aside from regular care and rehabilitation, patients are also offered an array of "value added" programs including therapeutic recreation, patient outings, chaplaincy, extensive family housing options, assistive technology, back-to-school programs and peer support.

Aside from specialized care and rehabilitation, patients at the Shepherd Center receive customized solutions to help them integrate daily tasks back into their lives. When a person loses function in one or more of their limbs, performing simple tasks like driving a car or using technology can seem nearly impossible.

Experts and technology specialists at the Shepherd Center help people customize an appropriate package of technological solutions that maximize independence in accomplishing day-to-day tasks. A state-licensed adaptive driving school provides resources, modifications and training for people with both spinal cord and neurological injuries so they can get back behind the wheel. Researchers and doctors adapt simple, everyday technology so patients can control things like TV remotes, iPods and cell phones.

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