Spinal cord injuries (SCIs) often affect active, healthy, young people without warning, magnifying the stunning emotional pain of their families and of the injured patients who survive them.

The financial costs to families and society are staggering. At times, individuals, governments, companies and organizations who share responsibility may fail to step up for their fair share.

Young people account for over half of new cases

Although it has been more than four eventful months since the death of a 20-year-old Connecticut gymnast, many of us remember the outpouring of emotion inspired by the sudden passing of this young athlete.

In fact, over half of all new SCIs in the U.S. are in people aged 16 to 30. The vast majority of these young patients are injured in ways that might have been preventable.

This means young men almost always sustain their SCIs playing sports, or in motor vehicle crashes, from firearms, or when falling or diving. Medical complications account for a disproportionate number of young women’s SCIs.

Not counting fatal accidents, doctors see nearly 18,000 new spinal cord injuries every year in America. Something like 300,000 Americans are now living with SCIs and, of those, about 42,000 are veterans of the U.S. military with severe SCIs or spinal cord disorders.

SCI experts tally up lifetime costs

Of course, all these numbers only hint at the emotional toll taken on patients and their families working toward their recovery and/or long-term care. Such losses are not easy to assign numbers to.

But every year, the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center releases a new volume of facts and figures about SCIs.

Their data includes the center’s attempts to calculate the financial costs of these injuries, as well as other measures such as their effects on the life expectancy of patients.

The numbers can be surprising and troubling. Readers should remember that they are estimates of averages, and that much depends on the exact type of injury involved. Especially crucial is the location of the injury along the spinal cord and its severity.