My Battle Against Pressure Ulcers
Education and Advocacy Robb Dunfield was left a ventilator-dependent quadriplegic at the age of 19, the victim of a fall from a third-floor balcony.
The obstacles Robb faced seemed insurmountable: severely limited mobility, dependency on a ventilator, and the certain knowledge that — barely out of his teens — his life would never be the same.
Today, he works as a speaker and the Senior Coordinator of the Rick Hansen Foundation Ambassador Program. Robb lives with his wife Sarah and their two twin daughters, Sophia and Emma, in Vancouver.
Like others who sustain an SCI (Spinal cord injury), I have had many pressure ulcer wounds throughout my life as a quadriplegic. When you get older, the skin thins out, making it easier to have one go unnoticed - particularly in bony areas like the ankles and elbows.
One pressure ulcer incident I will always remember happened while my wife, Sarah, was 8 months pregnant with our twin daughters. She was transferring me from my bed to my wheelchair, and being pregnant as she was (not to mention having less strength than usual), she dropped me on the side of my chair, onto the wheel brake. It hit my upper thigh, but everything looked okay. We didn’t think much of it.
"Shortly after this incident, I became ill and very thin – no one knew why at the time but we came to learn later on that I had type 2 diabetes."
However, most pressure ulcers start their bruising from the inside, and with more pressure, the worse it gets. By the time the skin breaks, significant damage has been done, making it too large and difficult to remove. Shortly after this incident, I became ill and very thin – no one knew why at the time but we came to learn later on that I had type 2 diabetes. This was a very stressful time for my family with Sarah going through delivery; I could not be there to help her because I was on my death bed.
The doctors realized that I had a pressure ulcer but needed to treat the diabetes first. At this point, the pressure ulcer had grown to the size of a softball. While waiting for this surgery, I needed to continue to support my family, which had now had grown by two.
Meanwhile, I painted when the pain wasn’t too excruciating to help pay the bills, purchase diapers, food etc. The day of my surgery finally came, and thankfully, all went well. The surgeons repaired the pressure ulcer, and slowly, my family and I were able to resume our normal lives.
Throughout this stressful experience, I realized a very important lesson: I am not invincible, and I need to take better care of myself and my health in order to take care of my family.
To those who go through the same process – you are not alone, but it’s okay to go to the experts. With support and motivation, you can get through anything.