A CHINESE farmer who was dubbed the “folding man” due to his crippling condition has walked again after he underwent painful surgery to fix his hunched back.
Li Hua, 46, developed ankylosing spondylitis, a rare type of arthritis, when he was aged 19.
He had been unable to stand up straight, eat or walk properly for more than 25 years because his poor family in rural China could not afford the medical fees.
Mr Li had to rely on his elderly mother Tang Dongchen to take care of him.
In the ten years before he started surgery his terrible condition meant he had lived with his face pressed up against his thighs, with just 1.86 centimetres between them.
Surgeons at the Shenzhen University General Hospital in southern China performed a number of surgical procedures from June to December last year to “open up” his body.
Mr Li, along with his 71-year-old mother travelled nearly 500 miles from his village in Yongzhou, in China’s Hunan province to Shenzen to get medical help.
His doctor, Professor Tao Huiren, likened treating the complex spinal condition as “climbing Mount Everest”.
Mr Li, who entire body appeared to fold on itself, was described as China’s only ‘three-on’ patient: chin on chest, sternum on pubis, and face on femur.
His leaving hospital – a year to the day he was admitted in 2019 – came just before his 46th birthday on 28th June.
Professor Tao told Shenzhen-based documentary makers Ergeng TV: “Li Hua had what is known as ankylosing spondylitis.
What is ankylosing spondylitis?
Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a long-term condition in which the spine and other areas of the body become inflamed.
AS tends to first develop in teenagers and young adults.
It is twice as common in men as women, according to the NHS.
The symptoms of AS can vary, but usually involve:
- back pain and stiffness
- pain and swelling in other parts of the body – caused by inflammation of the joints (arthritis) and inflammation where a tendon joins a bone (enthesitis)
- extreme tiredness (fatigue)
These symptoms tend to develop gradually, usually over several months or years, and may come and go over time.
In some people the condition gets better with time, but for others it can get slowly worse.
There’s no cure for AS and it’s not possible to reverse the damage caused by the condition.
However, treatment is available to relieve the symptoms and help prevent or delay its progression.
Surgery is sometimes needed to repair significantly damaged joints or correct severe bends in the spine
The serious spinal deformity can put pressure on his heart and lungs, leading to a loss of organ function and eventually death.
“From the perspective of medical skills required, it was like climbing Mount Everest.”
The professor and his team at the teaching hospital spent two weeks creating a treatment plan and another three months preparing Mr Li for surgery.
The series of four high-risk surgeries took place between 15th August and 31st October last year, and involved breaking Mr Li’s bones in sections and straightening them out again.
The longest of the operations took 10 hours and 25 minutes on 18th September.
Despite the real possibility of Mr Li becoming a paraplegic or even dying on the operating table, his parent Ms Tang felt there was no other choice, having already exhausted all her options.
She said: “Of course, I was concerned, but there was no other way after more than 20 years of hardship.
“I started looking for ways to treat him when I was in my 40s. I’m now 71.
“In the past, I’d hear people say this or that place could cure him, so I’d bring him there. I spent all my money, but nothing worked.
“If he isn’t cured and I die, who will take care of him?”
Mr Li’s successful surgeries were followed by half a year of intense rehabilitation. He was able to stand with the help of a walker but can now walk on his own for short periods.
He said: “I’m just very happy to be able to sleep lying flat again. I hadn’t slept on my back for more than 20 years.
“The first time I saw my mother after surgery, I suddenly realised how much she had aged while taking care of me all these years.
“She couldn’t take care of me forever, so I wanted to cure this disease and reduce her burden.
“To me, Professor Tao is my saviour.
“There would’ve been no cure for me without him.”
Professor Tao, who said he had never treated such as severe case of spinal arthritis in his career, called Mr Li “strong-willed”.
A video shows him training to lift his right leg while grasping on to a walking frame after securing his the limb to his hospital bed.
Another recent clip from the man shows him walking slowly outdoors, also with the help of a walking frame, and doing gentle exercises with his arms.
Prof Tao Huiren, Director of the Department of Spine Diseases, said that Mr Li was discharged from the hospital last month after largely recovering from the surgery.
It’s now reported he has returned home and opened up a shop to earn a living while he continues his recovery.
View more information: https://www.the-sun.com/news/1158687/china-man-arthritis-surgery-walk/