As noted in the last blog series, the question has plagued one individual in the past, but still lurks in the back of another young man’s mind:

“Why did [one teammate] end up one way and I end up another,” that young man told Sport Illustrated.  “I could’ve suffered the same fate.”

The answer to that question is that there is no real answer — like all instances of paralysis, it can go either way.

For these two individuals, that might not be enough, considering how close they each came to being in the same situation with paralysis.  Both of them are football players; both collided with yet another teammate, and both experienced major spinal cord injuries; and yet, only one of them has control over his body from the neck down.

There are many different ways of defining paralysis and, when it comes to the two paralyzed individuals, it’s easy to see how close both came to the same result after breaking their necks.  That being said, it is simultaneously difficult to say why one walks while another will spend the rest of his days in a wheelchair living with paralysis.  For the more mobile individual, his variety of paralysis was known as “incomplete paralysis”, meaning that his paralysis only lasted for a short time and he was able to regain control over his motor functions and feel sensation in his limbs and extremities.  He experienced herniated cervical discs, with damage being done namely to his C1, C2, and C3 discs — very high on the human spinal cord.  After undergoing a spinal fusion procedure as part of his paralysis treatment, that individual was able to walk again.  Today, he is a functional human with a disability.

But the other young man’s paralysis is defined as “quadriplegia”, whereby he has lost all control of the muscle functions from the neck down.  This is different from “paraplegia”, where a person loses the ability to control muscles and limbs from the waist down or “hemiplegia” a type of paralysis that affects only one side of an injured person’s body.

When the individual with incomplete paralysis was experiencing his paralyzing injury, he was also quadriplegic for a short time.  The difference comes in that the other young man’s paralysis is known as “complete paralysis”, meaning that it is a permanent fixture in his life. That young man hit the teammate in question in such a way that he absorbed the impact through his neck, snapped it at the C3 and C4 vertebrae, and severed all connection from the rest of his spinal cord and his brain.  But looking back at past instances such as this, what usually causes paralysis is damage higher up on the spinal column and closer to the brain.  This individual got hit lower than the young man with incomplete paralysis, yet became quadriplegic for the rest of his life, and there is no good explanation as to why it was him instead of the other man.

While it might seem that the teammate in question escaped the title of third musketeer in the trio of men with back injuries, in reality, he did not.  The tackle that he shared with the man with complete paralysis on the field was hardest impact that the teammate had ever felt in his life.  Years down the line, when the teammate had given up on football, a doctor found a crack in one of the lower vertebrae in Jacob’s back.  That injury occurred during his hit with the man with complete paralysis.

There are other questions that do not have clear cut answers, such as why has the man with complete paralysis – now 42-years-of-age — has been able to live for the past 24 years when the majority of people with complete quadriplegia have the average lifespan of 16.5 years after the spinal cord injury.  This man will most likely be quadriplegic for the rest of his life.  He might not ever get the chance to regain his ability to walk the same way that the other man with incomplete paralysis was able to.  Instead of wallowing in the knowledge of what he cannot do, the man with complete paralysis however chooses to not be defined by his physical condition.  Instead, he continues pursue his goals, stays active and, most importantly, remains hopeful of his outlook for recovery.  He hopes to find a cure for paralysis sometime in the near future.

If you or a loved one have suffering a spinal cord injury, we urge you to contact our bilingual offices as soon as possible following the accident at 1-858-551-2090 or please click here for a free consultation with an experienced paralysis attorney.  We handle all cases on a contingency fee basis, which means that you do not pay anything until we recover money on your behalf.

This is part two in a five part story.  Yesterday, we published part one of the Fusion of Lives series.