Tag Archives: Spinal cord injury

Newly-Injured Blog Series: Adjusting to the Shock of a SCI

The shock you feel when you’re told, “I’m sorry, but you have a spinal cord injury and will likely never walk again,” can be soul-crushing. Most everyone assumes a newly injured person immediately falls into a state of deep depression, but many instead find themselves in a state of shock.

How do you cope with feeling shocked? There’s no universal answer to this question as we all have unique stories, personalities and support systems. With the help of other SCI survivors, we’ve put together a list of coping suggestions that we hope are useful during this transition.

If you have any suggestions on coping that you would like to share, please send an email to spinalpedia@gmail.com.


It may seem over-simplistic, but the power of meditation and prayer cannot be underestimated when dealing with a SCI. Paralysis is just as much physical as it is a mental challenge. Your physical paralysis can lead to subsequent mental “paralysis.” An example is someone giving up or choosing to isolate themselves from the world and people around them.

The power of positive, clear-minded thoughts with meditation or prayer can help alleviate the shock of a SCI. Meditation requires a high-level of concentration and mindfulness allowing a person to gain perspectives on the importance of healing on the mind and the body. Religion requires deep connections with God and/or spiritual beliefs helping a person gain perspectives on coming to terms, understanding what this all means, why this happened and providing tools for healing.

Be Open to All Levels of Support

From peer support to the support of family and friends, comfort and emotional assistance plays a huge part in healing from the shock of a SCI. Whether your support system simply sits and listens, or offers advice from their own life perspectives, knowing people care and want to be present helps immensely. It is incredibly important to not push your supporters away, but rather keep them close.

A SCI must be approached with a long-term focus by creating a strong ever-expanding support system. Supports can also be found at local rehab hospitals, community SCI groups, statewide SCI groups (United Spinal Chapters) or even on SPINALpedia.com. Connecting with the SCI community and peer support programs provides important connections with those that speak SCI and know what you’re going through. Learning from others in similar situations provides real-life examples of what’s possible and empowers a newly injured person to try something new.

Challenge Expectations

Since physical changes can fluctuate dramatically for different people with a SCI, it is important to challenge preconceived expectations of what your doctors and rehab professionals protect as your likely future. Challenging these expectations can be really empowering especially when you’re told something is not possible. Don’t settle for basic short-term target goals set in rehab. Create short-term, medium-term and long-term goals and be on a mission to accomplish these not matter the obstacles in your way.

Dedicating your life during the first 2-5 years on strengthening your mind and body increases future independence and opportunities as well. Always challenge yourself and learn about exercise programs focused both above and below your level of injury (Restorative Therapy Activity Based Programs). All injuries are unique, with no two SCI’s ever being the same. Every SCI is a mystery of sort and with intense rehab from the start you will put yourself in the best possible position to heal and improve your life.

Be Patient with Your Body (But Restorative Therapy Activity Based Programs Work Your Bum Off)

It’s important to be patient with your body as its heals, especially during the first year of your injury. This is when your spinal cord system reboots itself, and many start to experience spasms by the end of the first year. This means that the nervous system is complicated and takes longer to heal than was previously assumed by doctors. The combination of persistence, patience & intense physical therapy is the best formula for success.

Whatever you do, try not to let the shock of your injury overwhelm you. It may seem impossible, but with the right mindset – and with time – you can find a mental state that will help you heal and one you can happily reside in.

What helped you overcome the shock of your injury?







Overcoming the Shock of a Spinal Cord Injury (Part 1)

Adaptive Flying: Freedom at It’s Best

Purdue instructor talks flight details with Able Flight student Melissa Allensworth prior to take-off.

Purdue instructor talks flight details with Able Flight student Melissa Allensworth prior to take-off.

When the Wright Brothers invented airplanes nearly 100 years ago, they probably never imagined quadriplegics and paraplegics taking to the skies. Thanks to technological advances over the last 20 years, the skies are becoming more and more accessible to persons of all abilities, even those pursuing their pilot’s license.

From hand controls that can come standard on small-engine aircraft to Sip ‘n Puff mouth controls for quadriplegic pilots, a sweeping array of technology allows people with paralysis the opportunity to fly, opening up entire new worlds and experiences. Read on for an overview of one of the fastest-growing adaptive sports out there – adaptive flying.

Paraplegic Pilot Tips

While it’s hard to pinpoint the first paraplegic to ever fly a plane, one of the first and most influential is Suzi Duncan from Australia. Having contracted polio as a child, Suzi was a young woman when she discovered flying. Passionate about aviation, she became a commercial pilot and flight instructor before going on to invent the Vision Air Hand Control. Read more about Suzi and her adaptive flying organization – Wheelies with Wings – here.

This hand control allows full use of the rudder both on the ground and in the air by pilots that can only use their arms. There are several other types of hand controls available in the United States and overseas in Europe and Australia. A handful of planes also come with hand controls, if requested, from the manufacturer. One of these is a Sky Arrow 600 Sport aircraft.

Quadriplegic Pilots Tips

Quadriplegics that are injured at the C5 level and above are taking to the skies too. One of the most famous quadriplegic pilots out there is also from Australia. His name is Dave Jacka and he is a C5-6 quad who flies using tri-pin hand controls for the rudder and brakes. He uses a Sip ‘n Puff mouth control to control the engine while his arms are occupied (video below).

If you’re interested in learning how to fly using adaptive equipment, especially if you’re a quadriplegic, several options are available in the US, UK and Australia. One of the most well-known adaptive flying programs is Able Flight (link below) in North Carolina, which offers scholarships to people with spinal cord injuries and other disabilities, teaching them everything they need to know in about five to six weeks so they can obtain their pilot’s license.

Meet Kevin Crombie: Quad Pilot and FAA Engineer

Kevin Crombie next to his plane, a Piper Cherokee 180.

Kevin Crombie next to his plane, a Piper Cherokee 180.

One of their most noteworthy program graduates is Kevin Crombie. Paralyzed by transverse myletis as a baby, he doesn’t remember what it feels like to walk, but he doesn’t mind that because flying is where his heart is. When he was a little boy, his dad was a commercial pilot, which instilled in him the desire to get his sport pilot’s license one day.

And in 2011 at the age of 21, he did just that. He was one of the first graduates of the Able Flight program. “I received a scholarship from Able Flight to train at Purdue University,” says Crombie. “The program consisted of an intensive 5-6 week training program where I lived at Purdue and attended daily classroom training along with flight training.”

Why does he love fly? “There is no better feeling than the freedom of flight,” he says. “In a world where we are always having to look up to people, while you’re flying you have the perspective of looking down on everyone. Also, you get a perspective check. You really get to see how communities are connected and how big the world is and how small your problems are.”

Getting his FAA medical and finding an adapted plane were trickier parts of becoming a full-fledged pilot, but it was worth it. He also loves flying solo, and does so often to see family. He’ll even bring teammates along for quad rugby tournaments (he is the vice president of the USA quad rugby team). “I mostly fly between DC and southern VA where my family lives. My plane has an approximate range of 600 miles.”

His plane is a Piper Cherokee 180 (PA-28-180) single engine 4 seat airplane that’s outfitted with Black Sky hand controls (to operate the rudder pedals and toe brakes). “Buying a plane is comparable to buying a new car (like a Toyota; so not a high-end car) and is about as expensive to own and keep up as a boat.” “It is expensive but it enables me to do so much that I otherwise couldn’t.”

Adaptive flying is a great equalizer. When you’re up in the sky, we’re all on the same playing field, and that’s a feeling everyone deserves to experience post-injury.

Have you tried flying post-injury? How did it go?

Adaptive Flying Schools/Scholarships

Able Flight (NC, USA)


Wheelies with Wings (Australia)

Freedom’s Wings International

Freedom In The Air (UK)

The APT Charitable Trust (UK)

Challenge Air (for kids with SCI)

International Wheelchair Aviators

Adaptive Aviation Videos

Inspirational Paraplegic Pilot: Captain Stewart McQuillan

Amazing: Paraplegic pilot flies solo from UK to Australia

Dave Jacka – Come fly with me (a quadriplegic pilot shows how he flies)

Paraplegic pilot Dillon Red flies modified Paradise Aircraft P1 light sport aircraft

Woman with Disability Learns to Fly

Flying with Quadriplegia: My First Flight as a Pilot

Freedom Fly Day with UK Paralympian Anne Wafula-Strike