July 10, 2013 — According to a doctor who treated victims of Asiana Airlines Flight 214, an airplane that crashed at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) on July 6, many of those who were hurt in the crash have spinal injuries and may require long-term treatment. Most of the 307 passengers on the plane suffered only minor injuries, but at least 23 people remained hospitalized, including five in critical condition. Two 16 year-old girls died in the crash.
Dr. Geoff Manley, neurosurgery chief at San Francisco General Hospital, is overseeing the care of two people who were paralyzed and several others who have required surgery to stabilize their spines. It is still too early to tell whether the damage is permanent. In an interview on Monday, he said that some people had crushed vertebrae that compressed the spinal cord. Others had stretched and torn ligaments that cannot support neck and back joints.
Dr. Manley said that the surprising pattern of injuries shows how violently the people were shaken in the crash, despite wearing their seat belts. Their upper bodies were flung forward and then backward — similar to whiplash in car accidents. This pattern of injury has raised questions about whether shoulder-restraint belts might reduce the risk of spinal injuries after plane crashes.
Rehabilitation for people with severe spinal injuries may last several years. Many people require surgery and they must wear a brace for several months. Impinged nerves can cause severe, chronic pain that must be managed with medication. If the spinal cord is damaged, complications include muscle weakness, numbness, paralysis, loss of sensation, muscle spasms, bowel and bladder incontinence, sexual dysfunction, and more.
Hospitals in San Francisco have also reported seeing many victims of the crash with internal bleeding, bone fractures, blunt force injuries to the head, concussions, contusions, bruises, and emotional trauma.
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