Paralyzed from the neck down? Here’s what knowledge can do

Trevor Griffith’s life changed in an instant.

After falling in his bathroom, he couldn’t move his arms or legs or anything below his neck. His wife came home to find him lying there helpless.

Trevor was taken to his local hospital. A few days later, he was transferred to Toronto Western Hospital at UHN, where he met Dr. Michael Fehlings, neurosurgeon and head of the Spine Program at the Krembil Neuroscience Centre. Dr. Fehlings specializes in developing surgical techniques that help restore function to people with severe spinal cord injuries.

Dr. Fehlings told Trevor that the ligament running through the vertebrae in his neck had been hardening for years, likely the result of a major fall a few decades ago. Over time, this ligament had turned to bone – leaving the nerves that deliver messages from the brain to the muscles compressed and unable to do their job. When Trevor fell in his bathroom, the damage that had been building passed its tipping point.

Known around the globe for his research on spinal repair, Dr. Fehlings has led clinical trials, showing that decompression surgery offers a safe, effective option for people with damage to their spine. The surgery has since been adopted internationally as standard of care. It involves releasing pressure on the injured spinal cord – and it was Trevor’s only hope for walking again.

Knowledge proved that surgery could help

Just a few days after his bathroom fall, Trevor underwent surgery on his spine. This was followed by a period of intense rehabilitation during which he learned to write and walk again. A remarkable four months later, Trevor left the rehab centre using a walker. He gave it away the next day.

“I went from being able to only touch my thumb to my index finger to driving a car in four months,” says Trevor. “People don’t believe me when I tell them that.”

Now retired, the former bank employee keeps busy with a part-time job driving a shuttle bus and by pursuing his photography – a lifelong passion.

His experience not only gave him the ability to move and walk again, but also a new lease on life.

“Things don’t bother me anymore. After what I’ve been through, even waiting in line for an hour at the bank is a joy.”

Read more stories about what knowledge can do.

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