Below are questions we often hear from our patients and their families. Please talk to your treatment team about any specific questions or concerns you have about your spinal cord injury recovery and rehabilitation at Mary Free Bed.

Do you treat children for spinal cord injury?

Absolutely. Mary Free Bed is the only inpatient rehabilitation provider in Michigan with a designated pediatrics unit. We have staff and spaces dedicated exclusively to treating young patients, both as inpatients and for followup care. Learn more about our Pediatric Rehabilitation and Therapy program.

What do “complete” and “incomplete” spinal cord injury mean?

Simply put, a “complete” injury means that damage to the spinal cord is quite severe; at the time of diagnosis, there is no feeling and/or movement below the level of injury to the spinal cord. An “incomplete” injury means there is some feeling or movement below the level of injury; how much function will return remains to be seen. Approximately 12,000 spinal cord injuries occur each year in the United States; there are approximately 273,000 people living with a spinal cord injury. Over the past 20 years, the percentage of people with incomplete (versus complete) injuries has increased.

Will I ever walk again?

It can be difficult for your doctors to know at the beginning of your rehabilitation whether walking – or regaining any other specific functions – is likely. Doctors base their prognosis upon your physical presentation and provide their best guidance according to their assessment of the degree (completeness) of damage and where (higher, lower) along the spinal cord the damage has occurred. Those whose injuries are lower and more incomplete generally regain more function and have a better chance for returning to some type of ambulation. Your treatment team will perform periodic reassessments throughout your rehabilitation and update your treatment goals according to your abilities; especially if you present with new or emerging sensation or movement.

Successful rehabilitation depends not only on the level and severity of your injury; it’s also related to your overall health and support from family and friends. And while we can’t offer guarantees about whether you’ll return to a specific activity, we do promise that you’ll be treated by a spinal cord injury team that’s committed to restoring you to the greatest possible level of independence.

How intense is the therapy and how much will I receive at Mary Free Bed?

The duration and intensity of your daily therapy depends upon your individual needs and tolerance. Research shows that the sooner you begin rehabilitation at an appropriate level of intensity, the better your outcome will be. Your treatment team will customize a therapy plan specific to your needs.

Typically, you can count on having 3 or more hours of therapy on at least 5 out of 7 days per week. Generally you will have less therapy on the weekend days, allowing for more time for various therapeutic recreation activities, rest and visits with family and friends. Your 180 minutes or more of therapy will be divided into manageable segments throughout the day, with breaks for meals and nursing care.

Your mornings generally begin with occupational therapy working with you on self-care activities such as brushing your teeth, grooming and getting dressed. Later that morning, you may go to the gym or therapy pool with your physical therapist to work on strengthening or mobility activities. Afternoons might include additional occupational or physical therapy sessions, or time spent with a recreational therapist, planning how best to get back to fishing, gardening, tennis or other activities you enjoy. Therapy is hard work, but it’s also rewarding. As one former spinal cord injury patient said, “it’s about getting me back to me.”

How long will I stay at Mary Free Bed?

The main factors that determine your length of stay are the severity of your injury, your current functionality and your rate of improvement. Our patients with spinal cord injuries stay with us anywhere from days to weeks to several months. Your team will set a length of stay based upon your medical needs and circumstances.

It’s common to have outpatient therapy when your inpatient rehabilitation is completed. At Mary Free Bed, you’ll even have the option to have your same therapists for this next phase of care. We also have many specialized services for a lifetime of support.

Am I going to be able to go home?

Our goal is your goal – to get you back home. Some of our patients have mixed feelings about going home. They’re happy to get on with their lives, but leaving the security of the hospital can also be scary. That’s why your team will help you prepare for graduation (Mary Free Bed’s term for leaving inpatient care) throughout your rehabilitation stay.

We focus on helping you find resources and develop the skills necessary for independent living, including:

• Activities of daily living. You’ll practice more than just personal care skills. We have a simulated grocery store, ATM machine and an indoor car for you to get into and out of. We even have a practice gas pump.
Driver rehabilitation
Assistive technology
• Home and vehicle modifications
Vocational rehabilitation
• How to find, train and manage caregivers

Talk to your physician and treatment team about your graduation timeline and any concerns you have about returning home.

Can my kids visit me while I’m staying at Mary Free Bed?

Your children are more than welcome to visit. In fact, we encourage it! Spending time with your family is good for you and them, too. It’s also important that your children see that while you may not move or do things in the same way as before, you’re still the parent they know and love. Family time at the hospital also paves the way for your transition home.

Visiting hours at Mary Free Bed are between 8 am and 8 pm daily, but we encourage visitors to be mindful of your personal care, meal and therapy schedules. Generally, visits are encouraged after your therapies are done for the day and on weekends, but can be tailored to meet your needs. Older children and teens may be encouraged to take part in your therapy sessions, particularly if they’ll play a role in assisting you at home.

We do ask that your children are supervised by an adult at all times. Visitors who are even mildly ill should stay home to protect you and the health of other patients.

Can my husband/wife/significant other/mom/dad stay with me while I’m at Mary Free Bed?

You are part of our Mary Free Bed family. However, as close as our relationship becomes, we’re no substitute for your actual family. That’s why we make it easy for the people you love to be with you as much as possible. In some cases, you may have a family member stay in your room. Your private room has a sleeper sofa to allow for a comfortable stay. These arrangements can be discussed prior to admission with your admission liaison.

When an in-room stay is not feasible, we’ll help you explore other options. For example, the Inn at Mary Free Bed provides affordable on-campus lodging with spacious, accessible rooms and amenities like a continental breakfast and wireless internet access. No room at the Inn? We’ll help you locate an accessible room in a nearby hotel.

What’s the nurse-to-patient ratio in the Spinal Cord Injury Program?

The nurse-to-patient ratio varies depending upon your medical condition. You’ll always have access to the level of care you need, even if that means around-the-clock, one-on-one care. Your care needs are first assessed preadmission, again at the time of your admission and then reassessed regularly throughout your stay by your treatment team.

Will I be able to have children after spinal cord injury?

Depending upon the severity of your spinal cord injury, sexual functioning may be affected. Generally speaking, spinal cord injury can affect sensation, sexual response and sexual performance. Although spinal cord injury can affect fertility, it doesn’t rule out the prospect of conceiving or having children.  Since every injury affects each person differently, it’s important to discuss your concerns or questions with your physician and treatment team. Your physician may refer you to one of our consultants (gynecologist/obstetrician, urologist) who can provide additional information.

Will I be able to return to work, school or the other activities I did before my injury?

Your ability to resume specific activities – whether it’s your job or a beloved hobby – will depend upon the severity and complexity of your injury. Returning to work, school and your favorite leisure activities is heartily encouraged, and your treatment team will work very closely with you, your employer and others to help you achieve your goals. Your therapists can assist with job-site, campus and leisure evaluations in order to provide recommendations best suited to your personal needs.

Your ability to function may change over time as you become healthier and stronger. We’re routinely inspired by what our former patients tell us, whether they’re a teacher returning to the classroom, an outdoor enthusiast trying to bag a deer once again or an active father and former bicyclist competing on the Mary Free Bed handcycling team in the Amway River Bank Run.

Sam Ho, MD, Spinal Cord Injury Program Medical Director, offers this perspective based on more than 30 years treating people with spinal cord injuries at Mary Free Bed: “Each person must identify his or her own capabilities and potential and make a choice about moving forward to set goals and achieve dreams. What gives your life meaning? What fills your life with purpose? How can you apply your gifts and talents? Whether it’s returning to work or school, attending a support group meeting or volunteering, participating in an adaptive sports clinic or sporting event or cheering on those who do…remember; we’re on your team and we’re here to help you along your journey.”

How will I manage air travel with a spinal cord injury?

Mary Free Bed’s recreational therapists have created a video resource to help answer the most common questions about air travel after spinal cord injury. The video features Mary Free Bed graduates demonstrating the typical challenges associated with airline travel, and insights into how to ease the process. Click below to watch.

What can I (or my loved one) do to stay safe in the event of a fire?

The United Spinal Association’s publication “Fire Safety for Wheelchair Users at Work and at Home” provides important information about fire safety for people with mobility impairments. The guide is geared toward wheelchair users, their employers/supervisors, emergency plan coordinators, building owners and managers, fire/safety/building code officials and office fire marshals.

Patients with spinal cord injury and their families/caregivers/employers are encouraged to become familiar with the protocols and procedures outlined in the brief, but informative, guide.

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