‘Folded boy’ closer to standing straight after surgery to ‘unravel’ his spine

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A student dubbed the “folded boy” due to a debilitating spinal condition that twisted his body into a Z-shape is one step closer to standing straight after multiple high-risk surgeries.

Jiang Yanchen, 19, from the Shandong province in China, suffers from ankylosing spondylitis, which folded his spine backwards to the point that his head and bottom were inches apart, The Sun reported.

The condition, which Jiang has had since primary school, causes the spine to become inflamed and typically causes back pain, stiffness and swelling.

Jiang’s is a particularly severe and rare case, as his spine was contorted backwards at an 180-degree angle.

This left him in constant agony and made it difficult for him to walk, eat and even breathe, as his lung capacity was 20 per cent of what a healthy adult’s would be.

Jiang underwent two high-risk surgeries in May and August 2023, both of which left him in a critical condition, the South China Morning Post reported.

Speaking to the publication, Peking University Hospital Department of Orthopaedics chief physician, Dr Wang Yu, described the process of the first operation.

“We broke his cervical spine apart, stretched it and then stabilised it with a frame. The frame remained on his body during the process,” Dr Yu explained.

The frame included a head ring and brace that extended down his spine.

“The next stage is to loosen the frame and straighten the spine section by section,” Dr Yu said.

“Locking it in, loosening, locking it in, loosing, we keep repeating these steps.”

Jiang was transferred to the hospital’s intensive care unit after the first operation.

Doctors feared he’d been left with possible nerve injury, as he had difficulty moving his limbs.

His mum, Yu Meiying, told reporters that her son had woken up in intense pain after the surgery, according to a video by the South China Morning Post.

“My child has suffered a lot,” she said tearfully.

Jiang shared that he’d realised he couldn’t move the morning after his first operation.

“Imagine only your eyes and mouth could move, but you cannot speak,” he said.

“When I saw the nurse pass by, I wanted to shout but no sound could be made.

“They eventually came in after I desperately raised my left hand to hit the edge of the bed.”

The nerves in Jiang’s spine had difficulty catching up to the change in his spine shape, as his nerves had adapted to the folded shape of his body, Dr Yu said.

Surgeons expected the second operation to be simpler than the first, but presented its own set of risks, putting Jiang in danger of heart failure.

Despite this, Jiang made it through, with his spine now folded back to a 90-degree position instead of 180.

Jiang was finally able to get a clear view of people in his line of sight and can now sit in a chair.

“I could stand for over 10 minutes on my first attempt,” he said.

“I could stand for more than an hour on the second day.

“But when I lay down, my muscles started to tremble.”

Doctors finally removed Jiang’s head ring brace five months after his operation and he celebrated his 19th birthday in hospital before being discharged.

The process of unravelling his spine is expected to continue this year.

Despite being in intense pain before his operation and not being able to sit in a chair, Jiang kept up with school and was admitted to a university in his hometown after taking final exams lying on a yoga mat.

“If I give up on myself, I’ll be a useless person even after I get cured,” Jiang said of his perseverance.

“Then what’s the point of getting treated?”

This article originally appeared on The Sun and was reproduced with permission

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