Cromer GP saved from wheelchair by cutting edge surgery

A retired GP has been saved from paralysis by cutting edge spinal surgery at a Norfolk hospital.

Col Ding, 65, had a �35,000 titanium cage fitted around his spine to replace three vertebrae which were destroyed by infection, as well as a new procedure to encourage the bone to regrow.

Had the life-changing operation not taken place Dr Ding, who does charity work in South Sudan and treated patients at his practice in Cromer for more than three decades, would now be confined to a wheelchair.

It was while on holiday in Africa in 2006 that he contracted an infection of TB and salmonella which spread to his spinal column.

After returning to his Cromer home he fell into a coma and was rushed to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital where he lay unconscious for four weeks.


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For two painful years he battled constant infections and eventually slipped into another coma, when his family were convinced he would die.

By this point Dr Ding had lost half of his body weight and could barely move or stand upright by himself.

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It was then that Am Rai, an expert spinal surgeon at the hospital, did the 'cutting edge' procedure. To battle constant infections he removed the damaged bones from his spine, leaving a large gap.

In a 12-hour operation a titanium support was put in place of the missing vertebrae.

'When he was admitted he was very, very ill, he couldn't do anything,' said Mr Rai.

'He was close to death, really. When the infection affected the bone he had difficulty walking. He couldn't hold himself up.

'You've got to take out all the dead bone, and once you do that there's a big gap to fill,' he added.

As well as the metal cage, which was filled with medical cement and antibiotics, a new technique was also employed to encourage new bone to grow and repair the spine.

A substance called bone morphogenic protein (BMP) was used, which attracts cells that stimulated new bone growth and filled the gap left.

'It's really cutting-edge. It's a great thing that the NHS is here that we can provide this treatment,' said Mr Rai.

'He's doing very well. He's a pretty strong man, because he went through a lot.'

Without the surgery Dr Rai said the patient would have been paralysed.

Although BMP has been used successfully in the US in recent years, it is rarely used in the UK and Dr Rai at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital is pioneering its use.

Dr Ding, who is leaving for Sudan on Wednesday to advise the government on healthcare, said he was grateful to Mr Rai for his work.

He said that at his worst he was 'just a skeleton'.

'I couldn't walk. I had to struggle with getting up. I was a gone person, I was dead really.

'I can do anything but I can't run or box. Mr Rai is very good, he's amazing.'

Mr Rai also runs a Norwich-based charity, Spine Aid, which makes regular visits to Zambia to offer surgery for children with back problems. 'We try to keep the ones in Africa straightforward,' he said. 'We can't afford any complications because there's no backup there.

'It makes you think about how lucky we are here.'

Anyone wishing to donate to Spine Aid can do so via the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

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