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​'Folded Man' Couldn’t Stand Up Straight For 28 Years

​'Folded Man' Couldn’t Stand Up Straight For 28 Years

He was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis in 1991 at the young age of 18

Jess Hardiman

Jess Hardiman

A person dubbed the 'Folded Man' was unable to stand up straight for 28 years, finally finding relief in 2019 when doctors broke and rebuilt his spine in a series of operations.

Li Hua was eventually able to stand again after an aggressive form of arthritis left his face pressed against his thighs for more than two decades.

Doctors at Shenzhen University General Hospital, which is in South China's Guangdong Province, broke and rebuilt Li's entire spine in a series of four operations in 2019.

Li before his diagnosis.
Asia Wire

The 46-year-old was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis in 1991 at the young age of 18, when pain in his joints forced him to become increasingly hunchbacked.

His family, from the city of Yongzhou in Central China's Hunan Province, did not have the financial means to treat him, and Li relied heavily on his elderly mother who became his full-time carer.

Images of the patient showed his entire upper body folded onto his lower limbs in a permanent, yoga-like forward-bend pose.

Medics at the teaching hospital described the severe spinal deformity as 'three-on': chin on chest, sternum on pubis, and face on femur.

Li Hua before the operations.
Asia Wire

Li, who could not sit up straight or lie down flat, said his condition had worsened in the past five years to the point where he struggled to eat or drink.

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.

In May 2019, Li's family came across Professor Tao Huiren, who headed up the spinal surgery and orthopaedics department at Shenzhen University General Hospital.

Li after the operations.
Asia Wire

Professor Tao had treated other 'folding' patients with similar spinal conditions, but none whose case was so severe, reports said.

Professor Tao accepted the challenge, citing a critical threat to Li's life if pressure on his heart and lungs was not alleviated, and the first of many multi-disciplinary consultations began in June 2019.

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 5-centimetre (2-inch) 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."

Li Hua standing straight for the first time in 28 years following his surgeries.
Asia Wire

During the four-phase surgical plan, Li was allowed to sit up, then lift his head, then lie flat.

Post-operative images released by the hospital show Li's entire body having been opened up, allowing him to lie flat, sit up and even stand straight for the first time in 28 years.

He was then finally able to move around with the help of a walker, although Professor Tao said he would 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."

Li 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."

The hospital described Li's case as the surgical equivalent of summiting Mount Everest. It was the first time such severe spinal deformities have been corrected in China.

Featured Image Credit: AsiaWire

Topics: World News, News, China