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After making a remarkable recovery from a spinal cord injury, former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier is now turning his attention toward helping others make the same kind of progress. Last month, he announced the launch of the Ryan Shazier Fund for Spinal Rehabilitation. The news comes three years after he suffered a spinal cord injury during a game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Spinal cord injuries can be caused by damage to any part of a person’s spinal cord or the nerves at the end of the spinal canal. These injuries are catastrophic and can easily cause permanent changes in strength, tactile sensation, and other crucial bodily functions. The goal of the fund is to provide resources, support, and funding for people with spinal cord injuries, as well as to their caregivers.
Spinal cord injuries can be caused by a variety of circumstances. The most common causes of spinal cord injuries are falls (22%), violence (16%) and sports injuries (12%). Just like the brain, the spinal cord cannot regrow new cells, which is why victims of spinal cord injuries are often left to deal with lifelong disabilities.
A recent estimate showed that the annual incidence of a spinal cord injury is approximately 54 cases per one million people in the U.S., or about 17,730 new cases each year. Per data compiled by the Loyola University Health System and quoted by Science Daily, life expectancy after a spinal cord injury ranges from 1.5 years for a ventilator-dependent patient older than 60, to 52.6 years for a 20-year-old patient with preserved motor function.
After his injury, Shazier was given long odds that he’d walk again after his injury, but he relearned how to do that and even went on to dance with his wife at their 2019 wedding. The release announcing the fund notes that the first 18-24 months are crucial to recovery and that Shazier received 130 rehab sessions. Others with less means than a professional athlete only receive 20-30 because of insurance limitations and the new initiative is designed to help people get the same kind of care. Shazier officially retired from football earlier in 2020.
According to Statista, the estimated lifetime cost of a patient who is 25 years old and suffering from paraplegia is around $2.5 million as of 2019.
In a statement, Shazier reportedly said: “My injury has helped me see firsthand what the SCI community goes through every day and the inequities people face when it comes to getting the care they need. I want to be there for people who are going through similar struggles, including their caregivers and families.”
The chair of the funds board of directors, William Kassling, explained their first area of focus, saying, “More than 90% of SCI cases are caused by a sudden and unexpected traumatic event. Our initial focus will raise money to help those living with sports-related and vehicular accident injuries.”