Incredible images show a man whose face was pressed against his thighs finally able to stand again after nearly three decades.
Li Hua, 46, was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis in 1991, which saw pain in his joints force him to become more and more hunchbacked over time. The severe spinal deformity left him unable to sit up or lie flat, leading him to heavily rely on his elderly mother who became his full time career.
In the past five years, his condition worsened, leaving him struggling to eat, drink or lift his head. There was only a five-centimetre gap between his chin and thighs.
The patientâs family, from the city of Yongzhou in Central Chinaâs Hunan Province, searched for help, but didnât have the money to afford the surgery. Medics in his native province also refused to operate in 2018, claiming that any surgery would come with a high risk to his life. However, his âsaviourâ came along in May 2019 in the form of Professor Tao Huiren, who leads the spinal surgery and orthopaedics department at Shenzhen University General Hospital.
The doctor agreed to operate on him â despite the risk involved being 20 to 30 times that of a regular spinal surgery patient and the chance of him becoming paraplegic very high. He had treated other âfolding patientsâ with similar conditions before but never a case so severe, with the hospital describing it as âthe surgical equivalent of submitting Mount Everestâ.
During the four-stage surgery, medics broke and rebuilt Liâs spine one section at a time, then straightened his entire spinal column. Despite a critical threat to the patientâs life if pressure on his heart and lungs was not alleviated, the surgery went well and he was allowed to sit up, then lift his head, then lie flat again. Pictures show Li able to stand straight for the first time in 28 years and he now can move around with the help of a walker. It was the first time such severe spinal deformities have been corrected in China. Li said: âThere wouldâve been no cure for me without Doctor Tao.
âHeâs my saviour, and my gratitude to him is second only to my mother.â Professor Tao says Li will regain normal movement following just two to three months of physical therapy. He said: âOf course he wonât be able to do anything too extreme like boxing or playing tennis, but all regular bodily movements will not be a problem.â
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