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13 Days of Caring: Spinal Cord Injury Association

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On a snow day in March of 1999, life suddenly changed for Debbie Burke. The sixth-grade teacher took her kids sledding at Ottawa Park and took a major hit. The sled “went down the hill and it went sideways and backwards and I smacked my back into a tree, and instantaneously became paralyzed.”

Burke stopped teaching. She described the pain as constant and distracting. But Burke found something else: a group of people, paralyzed, working through pain together.

Hank Barney lost the use of his legs in a diving accident in 1981. Then 21 years old, Barney went on to help found the Northwest Ohio chapter of the National Spinal Cord Injury Association.

It’s a group which includes the Toledo Raptors. The team competes in state and regional wheelchair games.

Burke is now one of the athletes. She says she likes “just the support and being around people that know what you’re going through and what you’re living with.”

The group says it has a new hurdle — recent patient privacy laws, known as HIPPA. These days if someone suffers a spinal cord injury, such as the two high school hockey players two weeks ago, doctors, nurses, all medical staff are required by law not to tell that person about the association. We’re told it would be considered a breach of privacy.

Barney said, “It just doesn’t seem fair. I mean, when I got hurt, there wasn’t anything, and now that there is something, they won’t tell you that it’s there.”

The only way a patient can find out is if he or she asks. It’s a single question that could lead that person to a group that understands. While the group does need donations, the best thing you can do for them is spread the word.

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