In early June, the world learned that Olympian and Colorado native, Amy Van Dyken, severed her spinal cord in an ATV accident in Show Low, Arizona.
Amy severed her spinal cord at the T-11 vertebrae. The T-11 is located in the lower thoracic region which is the mid-spine region that connects our back to our ribs. While initial reports were unclear, Amy has verified that she is paralyzed below the T-11 level of her traumatically severed spine.
While her family justifiably holds out hope for a full recovery, the reality is that modern medicine does not have a cure for a severed spinal cord. In time, Amy and her family will have to come to terms with the fact that Amy will remain paralyzed unless spinal cord regeneration becomes a viable medical possibility.
Amy plans to return to Colorado and undergo rehabilitation at our fine Craig Hospital. As a personal injury attorney in Denver, I have lost count of the hundreds of times I have visited newly paralyzed clients at Craig Hospital. Traumatic spinal cord injuries are devastating and tragic. Nevertheless, after representing many with spinal cord injuries, I can tell you that at Craig Hospital, they instill hope and do a wonderful job of focusing on functionality—not acceptance of a label like “disability.” Amy’s decision to continue her rehabilitation at Craig Hospital is a sensational step in the right direction.
I know from my experience that Amy will face many great challenges that involve financial, accessibility, marital, and emotional concerns.
First, from a financial prospective, regardless of Amy’s prior endorsement deals or the money her family has from her husband, Tom Rouen’s, very successful football career, the medical expenses associated with traumatic spinal cord paralysis can lead anyone to financial ruin. Even with private health insurance or Medicare, the patient’s out of pocket obligations for future medical needs alone can easily eclipse a million or more dollars. It is for that reason that Amy and Tom should carefully consider how they proceed, if at all, against the ATV manufacturer. I have no information beyond what the press has reported, but ATV manufacturers worldwide are well aware of how dangerous their products can be.
Another challenge will be for Amy to learn how to live in a world that is far from being handicap accessible. Despite the implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, this nation is woefully ill-equipped for a person with spinal cord injury and paralysis. Grocery stores, restaurants, and public restrooms are largely inadequate for wheelchair-bound users. Doors at public buildings don’t open the correct way, airports and commercial airplanes aren’t set up to accommodate those with special needs, and people themselves have little consideration to render assistance to individuals in wheelchairs. Amy will have to learn to deal with a world that is not quite suited for her limitations.
Amy will also face the challenge of going from having the finely tuned athletic body of a young 40 year-old ex-Olympic gold medalist to dealing with a body that will seem far different. At times, she will likely feel like her body is fighting against her. Learning to live with a body that no longer functions the way it used to can be exceedingly challenging.
Amy and Tom’s marriage is also going to face trials and obstacles. Divorce rates historically skyrocket for victims with traumatic spinal cord paralysis. Counseling is strongly recommended and I’m sure that Amy and Tom will take advantage of therapy and guidance in this regard.
Reports indicate that Amy still has a wonderfully upbeat attitude. From my experience with spinal cord injury clients, a positive attitude is critical. As hard as it might be for her fans to accept right now, Amy is going to embark on a new life. Her crash could ultimately result in a sad end-note affixed to her biography. Conversely, my suspicion is that Amy will tackle all challenges and see this as an opportunity to become an advocate for the thousands of people who suffer from traumatic spinal cord injury and paralysis. Much like Christopher Reeves who took on this cause decades earlier with grace and dignity, those with spinal cord injuries need a new advocate who will address the challenges they face on a daily basis. I’m sure that Amy will see this as her calling and turn this tragic event into a positive for many thousands of similarly situated victims.
Though her road through rehabilitation and ultimate acceptance of her paralysis will be long and full of dark days, I see Amy Van Dyken as a future role model as she uses her energetic and optimistic personality to benefit the many thousands afflicted with traumatic spinal cord injury.
At Anderson Hemmat & McQuinn, we have already begun to use Amy Van Dyken as an example and role model for our clients who suffer from traumatic spinal cord injury. Amy's Tweets clearly demonstrate her positive outlook and willingness to meet this challenge. Even though traumatic spinal cord paralysis is greatly challenging, it is not a death sentence. With proper care, a great attitude, and the support of family, paralysis should not stop people from living their lives and even thriving. My bet is that Amy will thrive once again. If you've suffered a catastrophic injury you should contact one of our spinal cord paralysis injury lawyers today at (303) 782-9999 for a free injury case evaluation.