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Plan for Hilyard rehab center has drawbacks.

Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Kevin Hansen For The Register-Guard

Last Friday, I needed to take a break from searching through the 462 formularies on the Web site for a plan that would cover all my future pharmaceutical needs.

I picked up The Register-Guard. Opening the City/Region section, I noticed that state regulators had approved PeaceHealth's plan to develop a mini-hospital for rehabilitation from strokes, brain injuries, amputations and other conditions. By other conditions, I assume the writer meant things such as spinal cord injury.

As a quadriplegic since 1975, I know a little something about spinal cord injury. I was thrilled to hear that plans for the Hilyard hospital will meet my future medical needs without `unduly' driving up the cost of health care.

I found myself slipping into a daydream about a day four years in the future. Follow me now to Willamette Pass. It is 22 degrees, snowing heavily and a 21-year-old kid is carving up some fresh powder with his wife of one year. Suddenly, he catches an edge and goes head-first into a tree.

His bride catches up. He tells her he cannot breathe or feel his legs. She goes for help. The ski patrol is by his side in five minutes. They call for backup, because to move a person with a spinal cord injury without causing further damage you need four to eight people. With a spinal cord injury, time spent in transit to a trauma center can mean the difference between temporary, partial or complete and permanent paralysis.

A helicopter evacuation is out of the question because of the weather, so he is loaded onto a vehicle operated by the Oakridge paramedic unit. It has replaced the two ambulances usually on site at Willamette Pass that were already dispatched to a big car wreck on Highway 58. They make it to RiverBend in 50 minutes.

The kid has sustained a dislocation of his third, fourth and fifth cervical vertebrae. An injury to the third vertebra - C3 - means you need a ventilator to breathe. C4 quads will be able to shrug their shoulders; a C5 quad will have use of the biceps but not triceps.

The trauma doctors are awesome. By getting the kid on the right medication (steroids) within 24 hours, he may regain use of his arms - maybe even his legs, to the extent that he can stand or walk with assistance.

The kid spends three days in intensive care at RiverBend, and then he is transferred via ambulance to the Hilyard hospital for three weeks of rehabilitation. (When I broke my neck in 1975, the normal length of stay at a rehabilitation center for a spinal cord injury was four to six months. They kept me for seven.)

Our quad newlywed begins to regain function in his arms and legs and rebuild his strength. Two weeks into therapy, he is lying on one of the raised therapy platforms at Hilyard while a physical therapist does range of motion exercises on his legs. Suddenly, he feels dizzy and tells his therapist he is passing out. She feels for his pulse, and hits the Code Blue button. The kid has experienced a pulmonary embolism. A blood clot had formed in his leg and traveled to his lungs, where it stopped his breathing.

He needs a heart lung specialist ASAP, and they are all at RiverBend. Down the elevator, into an ambulance, down to Franklin Boulevard heading east for Pioneer Parkway and the new Game Farm Road. No - there is a huge accident on the bridge into Springfield. The paramedics do a U-turn and head for the Ferry Street Bridge. No, it is Saturday, the Ducks are at Autzen Stadium and 65,000 people have clogged Coburg Road, Harlow Road and Belt Line Road.

As a last resort, the paramedics call the new Triad hospital to get them ready for the kid. They fly down to the Washington-Jefferson Bridge heading for the Delta Highway. They pull into Triad's emergency room and unload the kid. The ER doctors pronounce him dead on arrival.

Two months later, a young widow opens a bill for $3,000 - the cost for three ambulance rides. It could have been worse. He could have lived, and they would have transferred him via ambulance back to Hilyard.

Back in the present: A friend of mine named Sam Sullivan is a C4-5 quadriplegic. Last year, he was elected mayor of Vancouver, B.C., running as a fiscal conservative. I asked Sam how he had the energy to campaign for a position like that, let alone run a city of that size.

Sullivan said with a chuckle, he could do it because he did not have to worry about the cost of his health care.

Kevin Hansen is president of World Wheelchair Sports. He founded the Oregon Trail Paraplegia Foundation and served on the executive committee of the National Spinal Cord Injury Association. He was the only wheelchair user to serve as a coach on the United States track team at the Atlanta Paralympics in 1996.
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Title Annotation:Commentary
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Feb 28, 2006
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