Science has come so far in the last century that terming every advance as a breakthrough or a miracle has become redundant. They call the iPhone a revolution and the discovery of the Higgs Boson as the “last hurrah of the old physics”. But sometimes a miracle does break through. A man paralysed from the waist down…walks again.
Darek Fidyka had his spinal cord severed in a knife attack in 2010. He had been in a wheelchair since the tragedy and, in his own words, “helpless”. For two years he had been bed ridden despite physiotherapy treatment, but then a team of scientists and surgeons from Poland and Britain gave him his legs back.
Olfactory Ensheathing Cells (OECs) from Fidyka’s nose were extracted by removing one of this two olfactory bulbs. These were grown in a culture until they had multiplied enough to be transplanted in to the spine. 100 micro injections spread 500,000 cells above and below the injury after which four nerve grafts were taken from Fidyka’s ankle to bridge the 8mm gap in his spinal cord. The neurons had safe passage to flow.
Within six months, Fidyka was able to take his first steps, aided by a frame. Geoff Raisman, leader of the UK research team claimed that this feat was “more impressive than man walking on the moon”. Dr Pawel Tabakow, a neurosurgeon from Wroclaw University Hospital and head of the Polish team, marveled at the impossible becoming a reality.
Fidyka himself said that as the feeling came back to his legs, he felt he had been reborn.
In this world where disease and depravation stalk the earth, conquering monsters like paralysis deserves our admiration at the very least, and our long lasting gratitude at the most.