In the event of an unexpected spinal cord injury, choosing a treatment and rehabilitation plan can, and often does, feel daunting. But with the many different rehabilitation centers to choose from also comes the possibility of finding highly personalized, specialized treatment for you or your loved one’s specific needs.

“Every spinal cord injury is different. What is good for one person may not be the most appropriate for somebody else,” says Bernadette Mauro, the director of information and resource services at the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. The complexities of each injury are so complex that Mauro compares them to snowflakes — no two are alike. “It really has to be a customized, tailored process in choosing a rehab center.”

Knowing where to start

The Reeve Foundation is a charitable organization dedicated to funding innovative research and improving the quality of life for people living with paralysis. Through grants, information and advocacy, the Reeve Foundation develops reading materials and guides families choosing rehabilitation centers with checklists and guidance free of charge.

Mauro’s work concentrates on identifying each family’s unique needs and creating the most appropriate and beneficial pathway for each of them to follow. To get started in this process, checklists are available to families to check in with each other on which aspects of treatment are most important for the patient and their loved ones.

“This tool is really important because nobody knows the family member better than the family.”

Checking the essentials

“This tool is really important because nobody knows the family member better than the family,” explains Mauro. The checklist encourages each member to look at aspects, such as whether the rehab center is close to home, has visiting hours for loved ones, specific technology, opportunities to participate in clinical trials, community involvement and post in-patient follow up.

The checklist exists as an objective tool and is a personal experience for each family. For example, Mauro recalls a family of three where each person used a different colored highlighter for their top concerns. Then, to streamline visits and interviews at rehab centers, they prioritized discussing areas where all three of them highlighted. For those with a seemingly endless list of concerns and centers, this approach could potentially shorten the process and bring ease to the family.

Reviewing the options

When it comes to planning visits to rehab centers, many of them also offer virtual tours where they discuss their philosophy and facility, making it easier for all family members who may be unable to travel to experience a facility prior to arriving.

In planning actual visits, Mauro recommends that one family member takes on the responsibility of checking out each center. “When checking out a rehab center, the first one always looks wonderful, because generally that’s the first [rehab center] someone has ever seen,” says Mauro. “The only way you can compare is if that one set of eyes checks them out.”

The Foundation also provides guidance for those who have served in the military, as there are potentially qualified for a transfer to a VA hospital post-rehabilitation, as well as an expansive lending library of resources for families across the country.