Paralysis and Natural Disasters: the 411

Alan T. Brown is the Director of Public Impact for The Christopher Reeve Foundation.  This amazeballs foundation was started by Christopher Reeve, who played Superman in Superman AND was a real life Superman for his activism.  The foundation is dedicated to curing spinal cord injury and improving the quality of life for people living with paralysis.  In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, we wanted to know if people with paralysis are getting the help they need during natural disasters, and how teens can help. Here is what Mr. Brown had to say.  

What do people living with paralysis do in a disaster such as hurricane Sandy?

People with paralysis have a very difficult time controlling their body temperature. We also rely on [electricity] for wheelchairs, for beds, and for making sure we don’t get pressure sores. I tell people that depending on their level of ignorance and what they need (if they're really in fear, and not prepared because they're living in a low lying area) to check into a hospital. 

I know it sounds crazy, but no one knows what is going to happen with natural disasters.  To be stranded is worse. They should be prepared with generators, and have a support system – people who will check on you.  

How can teens help people with paralysis to prepare for natural disasters? 

If teens have neighbors with paralysis they should be a mentor or a caregiver.  Do their food shopping and get them extra blankets and ice.  Help them so that they don’t have to deal with the rush of people getting supplies. Ask if you can take them to the supermarket. 

What should people with paralysis do to prepare in advance for a natural disaster? What should they do afterwards?   

I always tell people to go to their local fire station and give them a floor plan of their house. Tell them where your bedroom is.  Don’t be shy.

  • If you live in a house that has an elevator, people should figure out in advance how they will get down from the second story, should they lose electricity. 
  • If you lose power, move.  We can’t live without power.  Whether you’re in an electric or manual wheelchair, you need A.C. because we can’t control our body temperature.  Don’t be afraid to go to a hospital and check yourself in. 

What organizations can help them?  Does the government offer assistance? 

The Christopher Reeve Foundation is the main resource [for people with paralysis], and is funded by the government.  We have free resource guides that are sent out to every state.  We want people to call us, and we want to send them guides.   

Should people with paralysis (or their caretakers) create an emergency kit?  What items should go into it?

Make sure you have more medical supplies than you normally have, such as catheters and liquid fluids.  I live six weeks ahead of myself.  With a hurricane coming, make sure you’re prepared for two weeks ahead.   Have two weeks' worth of medication and medical supplies.  Get a generator.  You might get a flat tire because of all the debris, so make sure you have extra tires.  Also make sure to have a portable air pump that doesn’t need to be plugged into a wall.    

Is there anything you would like to add? 

Don’t mess with Mother Nature.  Mother Nature is what put me in a wheelchair.  I got hit by a wave and broke my neck 25 years ago.  When you see hurricanes coming a lot of people take them for granted.  Better to be safe than sorry. 

Run a food drive to stock your local food pantry. GO


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