Being able to stand, or walk, is something all too many of us take for granted. For some people with disabilities, these mundane movements represent everything.

In 1991, when he was just 19, Li Hua was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis (AS), a degenerative disease, which began with symptoms of pain in his joints that over time, left him more hunched over, until he became unable to stand and or walk.

His mother never gave up on her son

What was once joint pain became a severe spinal deformity, and as time went on, he could no longer sit up or lie flat. His body started to look connected in three parts: chin to chest, breastbone to pubic bone and face to thigh bone. Ultimately, his elderly mother became his full time caregiver, as he could no longer eat or drink even without help.

For 10 years, he lived in this folded state, his head pressed against his thighs, struggling to eat and lift his head. Between his c

His family desperately wanted to help him, but they couldn’t afford the surgery that would make his life more bearable again. But his mother never gave up.

One doctor became his savior

On top of that, even the option of surgery was a risk in itself – doctors warned that the procedure was high risk, and had a possible outcome of death. So the doctors in his native province refused to treat him.

Finally, his chance of a better life came to be: In May 2019, Professor Tao Huiren, who runs the spinal surgery and orthopaedics department at Shenzhen University General Hospital, agreed to do the operation. First, he made it clear that everyone understood it was 20 to 30 times that of a regular spinal surgery patient and the chance of him becoming paraplegic were very high.

Dr. Tao had treated other ‘folding patients’ with similar conditions before but Li’s case was the most severe ones he had ever been confronted with. The hospital described it as “the surgical equivalent of submitting Mount Everest.”

During the four-stage surgery, the doctors broke and rebuilt Li’s spine one section at a time, then straightened his entire spinal column. The surgery was a success: Li was able to sit up, then lift his head, then lie flat again.

For the first time in 28 years…

After the rigorous treatment, Li was then able stand straight for the first time in 28 years and even move around with the help of a walker.

There would’ve been no cure for me without Doctor Tao. He’s my saviour, and my gratitude to him is second only to my mother.

Li Hua

Professor Tao says Li will regain normal movement following just two to three months of physical therapy. He said: “Of course he won’t be able to do anything too extreme like boxing or playing tennis, but all regular bodily movements will not be a problem.”

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