Brother’s Spinal Cord Injury Inspires Change in Nurse’s Life

spinal cord injury

Registered Nurse Ashley McCoy’s life changed personally and professionally after her brother suffered a T12 spinal cord injury five and a half years ago. She shares what it was like experiencing his recovery and how it impacted her nursing path for September’s Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month.

Ashley McCoy, a nursing supervisor at Renown Rehabilitation Hospital, shares how her brother’s spinal cord injury not only changed her life personally, but also professionally, and how they both use his experience to help spinal cord injury patients at the Rehab Hospital.

“I graduated nursing school in 2009 and upon looking for a job, I received a phone call that my younger brother was being care-flighted from Sand Mountain, Nev. and I could meet him in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

From that day forward, his life, and our family and friends lives, changed forever.

I soon learned he sustained a T12 spinal cord injury with a final diagnosis of paraplegia. He could not move or feel anything from the belly button down.  spinal cord injuries

Being a new RN, I knew some about spinal cord injuries, but I didn’t know much. That also changed. Thankfully, being unemployed, I was able to be by his side and watch his progress from ICU to Neuro to acute rehabilitation.

During his first week at Renown Rehabilitation Hospital, I was offered a job. From this moment, I knew that not only did I finally get my first nursing job but that I would also get to help other patients in rehab. More importantly, I was able to offer other spinal cord patients a personal experience — and I have gotten to do exactly that.

Living here in beautiful northern Nevada, I have been able to take care of various patients, including spinal cord injury patients that were doing what they love – snowboarding, snowmobiling, dirt biking, swimming and many other outdoor activities. I have also cared for those who may have been in a car accident or suffered a gunshot wound.

If the time was right during their care, I would ask my brother to come to the Rehab Hospital and introduce himself, tell his story and answer questions that the patients may have.

It fills my heart to see him speak to other patients, for the sole reason that he never gave up and is now completely independent – driving, working full-time and driving a rock crawler on weekends for fun.

After five and a half years, I am still here at the Rehab Hospital and support the services we provide 100 percent.

I love seeing our patients come in on the first day in a hospital gown, second day in regular street clothes, then continue their stay working so hard to regain their strength and independence before being discharged home. Acute rehabilitation offers a unique service to this community and I am happy to be part of the Renown rehab team.” spinal cord injury

What is a spinal cord injury?

The spinal cord is a collection of nerves that travels from the bottom of the brain down your back. There are 31 pairs of nerves that leave the spinal cord and go to your arms, legs, chest and abdomen. These nerves allow your brain to give commands to your muscles and cause movements of your arms and legs.

The National Spinal Cord Injury Association offers the following facts about spinal cord injuries:

  • There are approximately 200,000 people living with spinal cord injuries (SCI) in the U.S.
  • A majority of SCIs occur from motor vehicle accidents, falls, work-related accidents and sports injuries.
  • SCIs are most common among young, white men.
  • Aggressive rehabilitation and assistive devices allow even people with severe SCIs to interact in society and remain productive.
  • SCIs can be either complete or incomplete. In complete injuries, there is not function below the level of the injury. In incomplete injuries, there is some function remaining below the level of injury.
  • Early immobilization and treatment are the most important factors in achieving recovery from spinal cord injuries.