"These patients require tremendous resources to care for them -- ventilators, special beds, tube feeding, MRIs, complex surgery often. More acute life threatening situations may 'bump' the care of stable yet very sick spinal cord injury patients," he says.
And what will happen when these patients are released from medical care back into the community?
When earthquakes occur in impoverished areas such as Haiti, there is little infrastructure available to support paralyzed patients.
O'Connell says that at the Helping Hands for Haiti rehabilitation center, it is not "uncommon for us to see people within days of their injury, discharged without proper management of their injuries."
"If you don't jump onto the rehabilitation process within a few days, you are going to lose some people," Haig says. "Oftentimes the disaster planning process looks at rehabilitation as something that comes weeks or months down the road from an injury -- they don't take into account this need."
"This is going to be an extraordinarily consequential disaster for Haiti," says Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.
But many non-profit and health-care organizations are mobilizing to meet the need of earthquake victims in Haiti -- several specially targeted at helping those with spinal cord injuries.
Helping Hands for Haiti, Doctors Without Borders and Handicap International all have medical personnel on site and/or plan to send medical specialists to aid the crisis in Port-au-Prince and several more organizations will discuss aid options as well, O'Connell says.
"There has to be an urgent, coordinated influx of orthopedic and trauma surgeons and neurosurgeons into the country as soon as possible," she says.
Gibbs couldn't agree more: He says he plans to travel to Haiti with a team of doctors -- including a neurosurgeon -- whose focus will be on spinal cord injury patients. The team plans to work out of the floating naval hospital when it arrives.
"Organization is key to getting adequate relief faster," Redlener says. "The lessons we have taken from events like [Hurricane] Katrina is the coordination and organization of response so we can respond faster."
"I don't think the world can forget about Haiti," O'Connell says. "We'll be in this for the long haul."
ABC's Lara Salahi contributed to this report