In 1944 a spinal injury centre dedicated solely to the treatment of severely disabled people was opened by the Ministry of Health at the former Ministry of Pensions Hospital, now the Stoke Mandeville Hospital, under the direction of Dr Ludwig Guttmann – it was the first time systematic treatment and rehabilitation was planned and put into place.
Before the new methods of treatment were put in place, people who were paralysed through a spinal injury or disease were, in the majority of cases, written off because their life expectancy was at best seldom longer than two years. During this time they were completely dependent upon others.
The new medical centre opened with just one patient on 1 February 1944 and was originally designed to deal with spinal cord injuries suffered by casualties of war. British Army mortality rates among war-wounded paraplegics from the First World War were 80 per cent within a few weeks or months of injury.
A spinal cord injury is the result of damage to any portion of the spinal cord or the nerves at the base of the spine. The spinal cord is a bundle of nerve fibres which lies within the spine forming the brain’s connection to the body. Damage to any part of the spinal cord can impact sensory, motor and reflex capabilities if the brain is unable to send information past the location of the injury. The higher the injury occurs, the more severe the damage.
The UK’s National Spinal Injuries Centre is now one of the oldest and largest in the world. Dr Guttmann believed the only appropriate way to treat spinal injuries was in specialist centres that could provide a medical team with the knowledge and skills specific to each patient’s needs.
Because of the complexity of spinal injuries and the numerous different ways in which they can affect patients, as well as the need for simultaneous management of both the medical and non-medical effects of such injuries, Dr Guttmann’s vision was to create a specialist centre that could provide a treatment system built on a multidisciplinary approach, both holistic and surgical.
This modern-day approach has transformed patients’ functional recovery and their readjustment to permanent disability, helping them to achieve a much-improved post-injury quality of life.
Emma Dryden. Solicitor, Personal Injury department.
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