Thursday, January 22, 2009

Life As a Quad I: The Basics

In the first post of my new series I would like to start off with the basics and some history.

Types of Paralysis - Quadriplegia (Tetraplegia) and Paraplegia

When a person suffers a spinal cord injury, information travelling along the spinal nerves below the level of injury, will be either completely or partially cut off from the brain, resulting in Quadriplegia (Tetraplegia) or Paraplegia.

The body will still be trying to send messages from below the level of injury to the brain known as sensory messages, and the brain will still be trying to send messages downwards to the muscles in the body, known as motor messages. These messages however, will be blocked by the damage in the spinal cord at the level of injury. Nerves joining the spinal cord above the level of injury will be unaffected and continue to work as normal.

Quadriplegia / Tetraplegia

Quadriplegia / Tetraplegia: is when a person has a spinal cord injury above the first thoracic vertebra, paralysis usually affects the cervical spinal nerves resulting in paralysis of all four limbs. In addition to the arms and legs being paralyzed, the abdominal and chest muscles will also be affected resulting in weakened breathing and the inability to properly cough and clear the chest. People with this type of paralysis are referred to as Quadriplegic or Tetraplegic.


Paraplegia: is when the level of injury occurs below the first thoracic spinal nerve. The degree at which the person is paralyzed can vary from the impairment of leg movement, to complete paralysis of the legs and abdomen up to the nipple line. Paraplegics have full use of their arms and hands.

Level of injury (Lesion)

The level of injury, otherwise known as a lesion, is the exact point in the spinal cord at which damage has occurred. The levels are determined by counting the nerves from the top of the spine downwards, and these nerves are grouped into four different area’s. These are the Cervical, Thoracic, Lumbar and Sacral parts of the spinal cord.

These area’s are important in defining quadriplegia and paraplegia, as damage to the spinal cord as these points directly determines how groups of muscles, organs and sensations will be affected.

How the spinal cord has been damage is also a consideration when evaluating a spinal cord injury. There are two types of lesion, these are a complete injury and an incomplete injury. Someone with a complete injury will have complete loss of muscle control and sensation below their level of lesion. An incomplete injury is where maybe only the muscles have been paralyzed, or where there is impaired sensation.

*This information was taken from

According to, quadriplegia is "paralysis of all four limbs or of the entire body below the neck". In other words, to be labeled as a quadriplegic may not mean complete paralysis of the body. Some quads have limited or almost full use of their arms. It just means that they have some type of paralysis in all four limbs. I know some quadriplegic's who have paralysis in just a couple of muscles in their arms and are able to drive with their hands.

I am labeled as a quadriplegic. I broke my neck at C-1 C-2, the highest vertebrates of the spine. The norm is that the higher the injury is on the spinal cord, the more paralysis the person will have. My injury to my spinal cord is incomplete. I am mostly paralyzed below my neck, however, I am able to move some things. I can move all of my toes and five fingers. I can also bend both of my wrists, elbows, and knees. There are other muscles I am able to flex and move with assistance. I also have feeling everywhere, some places better than others. Because I injured my spinal cord at the highest point, I am unable to breathe on my own. I am dependent on a ventilator to breathe for me, and I have 24/7 nursing care.

After my accident happened, I was airlifted to Hennepin County Medical Center. I spent three weeks in the ICU, before transferring to Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare in St. Paul where I spent five months rehabilitating. Because I broke my neck, I had to wear a halo, which is an orthopedic device that was used to immobilize my head and neck. It consisted of a mental band placed around my head and screwed into my skull with metal pins. It was attached by metal extensions to a plastic vest that I had to wear. I had my Halo on for three months before I had surgery to remove it and to fuse my neck bones together because they weren't completely healed. Since then I have had many other surgeries at Gillette that would help me either at that time or in the future.

My journey to where I am today has not been an easy one. There have been complications, near-death experiences, overdoses and withdrawals on medications, etc. These experiences have been minor bumps on my road to recovery. Despite my challenges, I am thriving as an individual and moving forward with my life. The remainder of the posts in this series will mostly contain information on my current situation and the things I am doing to maintain my life these days.



Teoni said...

I found that really interesting - thankyou!
You're an inspiration babe :)


I am a c4 complrtr so I have no movement from the neck down the diff between me and a c3 is im not vent dep and I also have more neck movement I can float on my back with assitence and also a staning frame but I never give up hope alan newman