Editor’s Note: Author Phillip Martin is a victim of the birth defect, Spina Bifida. He underwent surgery to close his spine when he was a day old — 36 years ago.
More than anyone else we have met recently, Martin has prevailed over a serious life problem. Although he has some mobility problems, he walks without a cane and has, through many years of determination and grueling work, developed an active life for himself. He is a scholar of history, a teacher and a martial arts practitioner and instructor. Nobody is likely to kick sand in his face. Martin, his wife and their eight year old son live in Blue Springs.
BY: Phillip Martin
With a sea of pink seen at football games, baseball games, and most other major events in October, most people know that it is breast cancer awareness month. However, you might not know that October is also Spina Bifida awareness month. It is also safe to say that not many know what Spina Bifida actually is.
Spina Bifida is a birth defect in which the spinal cord does not develop fully while in the womb. There are three common forms: Occulta, Meningocele, and Myelomeningocele, with the later often times being the worst form. The effects of Spina Bifida can range wildly, from almost no symptoms at all, to the patient being paralyzed completely. The severity of the disorder usually depends on what type the patient is suffering, and where it falls along the spine.
Although it affects people in different ways, there are also some fairly consistent complications that are shared among patients. Spina Bifida patients are typically underdeveloped in the lower half of their body, and lack mobility in these areas. Sometimes braces or orthotics are needed for the patient to walk; other times, the damage is too severe and a wheelchair is needed.
As with any problem associated with the spine, there is usually significant nerve damage, including those nerves that control the bladder and bowels. These problems can lead to patients lacking control and needing the aid of products such as catheters and colostomy items in order to function. Even with these devices, social settings can be very unnerving for individuals with the disorder, and it can have a great effect on the overall happiness of the patient.
Another complication from Spina Bifida is that of Hydrocephalus, a condition in which spinal fluid surrounds the brain. This is a dangerous condition, as it can lead to too much pressure on the brain. This condition is typically treated with the use of a shunt, a tube that runs from the brain and empties into the stomach or other areas for elimination.
Spina Bifida is considered a rare birth defect, with just over 1,600 infants born with the defect per year, with Hispanics being the most at risk. It is recommended that expecting mothers, and those who are attempting to become pregnant, take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily to help prevent the defect in their developing fetus. In 1996, the FDA required all manufacturers of grain products that used the term “enriched” on their packaging to include Folic Acid in their products.
Spina Bifida is a life-long struggle, and there is no cure.
After he passed away, it was revealed that country legend Hank Williams suffered from Spina Bifida, and likely drank heavily in an effort to self-medicate, not having another way to deal with the chronic pain he suffered.
Spina Bifida is a serious, and potentially life-threatening, illness that deserves more attention than it gets.
Perhaps while we are pinning on our pink ribbons in October, we could pin a yellow ribbon next to it, and be prepared to spread the word when we are asked why.
What we can do to help: Spina Bifida AssociationHank Williams, New Albany MS, Spina Bifida, Union County MS