A ‘folded man’ can finally stand straight after life-changing surgery to fix the hunchback which left his face pressed against his thighs.
Li Hua, 46, was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis (AS) in 1991 at the young age of 18, according to local reports.
The symptoms of AS usually develop slowly over several years, and Mr Hua has been folded over in a permanent yoga-like standing forward bend pose for two decades.
After a series of four operations this year, he has been able to stand completely straight for the first time in 28 years. He is expected to walk without aid in three months.
Mr Hua was struggling to eat or drink before his operation as his condition had worsened in the past five years. He measured only 90cm in height.
In May this year, Mr Hua’s family came across Professor Tao Huiren, who leads the spinal surgery and orthopaedics department at Shenzhen University General Hospital.
Professor Huiren had treated other ‘folding’ patients with similar spinal conditions, but none whose case was so severe, reports said.
Li Hua, 46, was dubbed the ‘folding man’ (pictured) due to his condition, ankylosing spondylitis, which was diagnosed in 1991 at the age of 18
After a series of four operations this year, Mr Hua has been able to stand straight for the first time in 28 years. He is expected to walk without aid (a walker) in three months
The symptoms of AS usually develop slowly over several years. Mr Hua’s spine had become so bent over (pictured) he hadn’t stood completely straight for 28 years, local reports say
Mr Hua said: ‘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.’
Mr Hua’s family, from the city of Yongzhou in Central China’s Hunan Province, did not have the money to treat him all these years.
The once lean teenager was unable to sit up straight or lie down flat and was completely dependent on his elderly mother who became his full-time carer.
However, when he sought medical attention in his native province in 2018, he was refused surgery on the grounds that any operation would come with a very high risk to his life.
Professor Huiren accepted the challenge, citing a critical threat to Mr Hua’s life if pressure on his heart and lungs was not alleviated, and the first of many multi-disciplinary consultants began in June.
Mr Hua had previously been refused surgery on the grounds it was too life-threatening
Mr Hua is expected to walk without aid in three months since having his operation
Mr Hua was once a tall teenager but became completely dependent on his mother
Medics at the teaching hospital described the severe spinal deformity as ‘three-on’: chin on chest, sternum on pubis, and face on femur.
The medic said: ‘A regular so-called penknife patient would still be able to lift their head, but he couldn’t.
‘There was only a five centimetre (2inch) gap between his chin and thighs.
‘Our only option was to break his bones one section at a time – femur, cervical vertebrae, thoracic vertebrae, lumbar vertebrae – and then straighten his entire spinal column.
‘The risks involved were 20 to 30 times that of a regular spinal surgery patient, and the chances of him becoming a paraplegic were also very high.’
Mr Hua had surgery at Shenzhen University General Hospital
The hospital described Mr Hua’s case as the surgical equivalent of climbing Mount Everest
During the four-phase surgical plan, Mr Hua was allowed to sit up, then lift his head, then lie flat.
Post-operative images released by the hospital show Mr Hua’s entire body having been opened up, allowing him to lie flat, sit up and even stand straight for the first time in almost three decades.
He is now able to move around with the help of a walker, but Professor Tao says he will regain normal movement following just two to three months of physical therapy.
The medic 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.’
The hospital described Mr Hua’s case as the surgical equivalent of climbing Mount Everest.
It was the first time such severe spinal deformities have been corrected in China.