Paralysed man walks after breakthrough surgery

According to news reports today, a paralysed man from Bulgaria can now walk again with the aid of a frame after breakthrough surgery transplanted cells from his nose into his spinal cord, which had been severed in a knife attack.

Darek Fidyka was left completely paralysed from the chest down after suffering stab wounds to his back four years ago. After nineteen months of treatment at a Polish hospital, his doctors say he has recovered some voluntary movement and some sensation in his legs and continues to show improvement well beyond what has been medically predicted.

This British-funded surgical breakthrough is an extraordinary milestone which may change the lives of thousands of others with similar injuries. In an interview with CNN International, Professor Geoffrey Raisman a professor at the Institute of Neurology at University College London in the United Kingdom and team leader of the procedure, cautioned that while this was an exciting breakthrough after many years of work, there’s still a lot more work to be done to confirm whether this procedure will be effective on other paraplegics. He added the success of the procedure may have been partly due to the fact the injury was a “clean cut” and hence may not be suitable for patients with more complicated spinal injuries.

Professor Raisman has been working on this procedure since 1969. In 1985, he and his team identified that a type of nose cell – called an olfactory ensheathing cell (OEC) – allows nerve fibers to regenerate into the brain. Damaged nerve cells formed new connections and have now resulted in this procedure breakthrough procedure which – as it is further developed – will result in a historic change in the currently hopeless outlook for people disabled by spinal cord injury.

Professor Raisman
Professor Raisman

Darek Fidyka was featured in a BBC Panorama program, entitled “To Walk Again,” and is quoted as saying, “I knew it would be difficult, and it would last long – but I always shut out the thought that I could be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life, so I was always set to fight hard.”

It is estimated that more than 3 million people worldwide are living with a spinal injury.

Professor Raisman has been unwavering in his belief that one day it would be possible to regenerate nerve fibers in spinal cords damaged by injury and today this belief has become a reality for Darek Fidyka, and a real possibility for many thousands of other paraplegics like him.