Earlier in the week, we featured an interview about the history of Superman. For many of us of a certain age, the first Superman we remember was actor Christopher Reeve, who portrayed the Man of Steel in movies in the 1970s and ‘80s.
He seemed synonymous with the part, until, that is, a horseback riding accident in 1995 left him paralyzed. From then until his death in 2004, Reeve was a public face on the need for research into ways to treatment for spinal cord injuries.
Work going on in the Milwaukee area is contributing to one aspect of treatment – treatment that could help stabilize a spinal cord injury. They are called neuroprotective drugs.
Dr. Shekar Kurpad , director of the Spinal Cord Injury Center at Froedtert Hospital and a neurosurgeon at the Medical College of Wisconsin, is one of the doctors who is working on the neuroprotective drugs. He says that there are two types of injury: primary injury and secondary injury.
Primary injuries are typically blunt injuries, such as car accidents, where a fragment of a vertebra breaks off and impinges in the spinal cord and bruises it. Typically bruises are taken lightly, but it is not the same case for the spinal cord; bruises on the spinal cord can be detrimental.
“There’s not a lot you can do about avoiding the primary injury, it is what it is,” says Kurpad. “But you can do a lot about the secondary injury.”
The secondary injury is when quadriplegic and paraplegic factors come into play. The body tries to heal itself but it only gets worse. Once the back is injured, it becomes vulnerable and can be reinjured again, sometimes an irreversible injury.
Dr. Kurpad is working with other doctors to prevent a secondary injury onset in the emergency room or at the scene of the accident. Medication is best immediately after the injury, typically within the first twelve hours. Medication will help localize the injury and prevent its spread throughout the back.