Spinal cord surgery (maybe not for the faint of heart)


It has now been about six weeks since my spinal cord surgery, and I am happy to say that my neck is mending very well.  It’s still a little sore, but I workout my upper body every day with weights and VitaGlide in order to strengthen the muscles surrounding my neck.

So here’s the story of the surgery, with some unusual illustrations courtesy of one of my physical therapists who routinely photographs and videos major surgical procedures in Kunming.

I remember being put in the hospital gown the morning of the surgery and rolling into an ultra modern operating theater that had been designed for Tongren Hospital by Australians.  My anesthesiologist, Professor Wu, who is the recently-retired chairman of the Department of Anesthesiology at Kunming Medical University, taught most of the anesthesiologists at the Peoples Liberation Army Hospital as well as in other major hospitals in Southern China.

Dr. Wu spoke flawless English, and I attempted to have a conversation with him, but I think his mind was focused on other things as he quickly put a mask over my face, and then I was out like a light.

The following photographs were taken by Niu Fang, the physical therapist I mentioned above.

Surgery 6

The surgical team getting ready for surgery


This diagram illustrates the numerous layers surrounding the spinal cord.  Dr. Liu had to drill away the bone of three vertebral lamina (C-5 through C-7) to gain wide “barn door” access to my spinal cord.  Then in order to secure my spinal column at the end of the surgery, Dr. Liu used part of the vertebrae he had cut away, crushed up to make a sort of mortar, to reinforce positioning of the three titanium rods and six screws he used to stabilize my spinal column.

On a side note, my brother Mattias had the nerve to ask Dr. Liu if he could please save a small piece of my vertebrae as a keepsake!

Yes, that is how much I love my brother … how many many sisters would offer a piece of their spinal column as a gift?  🙂

Surgery 3

Before the dura mater is opened … this is the scene

Surgery 1

First a small puncture of the dura mater … and then a CSF gusher!

Surgery 4

The dura mater is now wide open, exposing the pia mater in order to gain access to the arachnoid cyst on the anterior side of the pia mater, and also revealing 2 small syrinx cysts just inside of the pia mater that were successfully drained.


My surgical team deep in concentration


Sleeping peacefully on a lot of drugs right after the surgery 🙂

I have to admit that at first I was hesitant to look at these photos or watch the videos because I thought they might make me a little queasy.   However, I actually found these photo records very informative and wanted to share them with my regular readers.  I doubt many of you have ever before seen the inside of a spinal cord, so here you can have a peek at mine!   (If you’ve any questions about all this please feel free to e-mail me.)

Finally, there were two videos taken during my surgery. I have decided to post these on YouTube because they serve to illustrate a very important outcome of the surgery that could not be seen in a still photograph.

In the first video, note carefully that my spinal cord is not moving at all, being literally stuck in place by scar tissue and wedged in tightly by the big (3.5 cm) cyst.

Also worth observing is the absence of blood.  Dr. Liu is one of the very top neurosurgeons in the world, and his mantra is “no blood” when working on an open spinal cord.   On top of the pia mater you can actually see the tiny, delicate blood vessels that supply the spinal cord, and none of these have been nicked.  I lost virtually no blood during the entire surgery.

In the second video, after the team have surgically drained the big cyst and cleared out the scar tissue, you can actually see that my spinal cord has started beating again in rhythm with my heartbeat.  I learned that your spinal cord is supposed to pulse naturally with your heartbeat and breathing, but mine had unfortunately been frozen in place for over two years.  😦

It is incredible how Niu Fang captured all this on film … see for yourself!

Video 1:  No movement of the spinal cord: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w2soHLDNiWY&feature=youtu.be

Video 2:  Spinal cord is again pulsing with the beat of my heart: http://youtu.be/KW2s-eOMcD0

8 responses »

  1. Ali, you did a great job on the pictures and the descriptions, and of course as the patient! amazing ! few if anyone can do what you do !

  2. I was a little hesitant to look at the pictures, but found both pictures and video so informative and amazing. Thanks for taking us thru all of these details and your progress – look forward to all your posts. Love, Pat

  3. Hi Ali: this is truly an extraordinary process . . . thank you so much for posting the details; your explanation really helps us understand all that is happening in Kunming…you are incredible and we love to read your post/s…we are hearing great results in the US from the Kunming efforts. This is really an extraordinary time and you are on the forefront of it all; you are so amazing and thank you so much for sharing all the good news…I am thrilled that time has elapsed since the surgery; so excited to hear about your healing…love to hear each step….we are sending lots of good, positive energy for the next few months..and then the next…and then the next. GO ALI! YOU ARE EXTRAORDINARY!

  4. Thank-you Ali for sharing these photos and videos with us all. What a wonderful quality to be so open and giving. Hugs, Tania.

  5. Impressive !!! The videos and pics are so impressive! Thank you Ali. Send you tons of energy and good vibes. Big hugs

  6. I did it! I looked at the pictures and watched the videos! Wow, Ali. You always were on the cutting edge, and nothing has changed in that respect! This is amazing documentation. I have learned so much from your blog already and can’t wait to see more as the weeks progress. You are always in my prayers. Coco says, “Hi!” Miss you tons.

  7. Two weeks without Internet here in Normandy and only just catching up on your blogs, Ali. Those pictures and the videos – wow! Thank you for sharing them. Danielle and I remain in awe of your courage. xx

  8. I am a youngster together with AS I learned that you could actually get paid intended for the likes of this specific. I am informed about computer systems and possess decent materials ability together with I know I can be able to write good blogs/articles… For a several (sort of) area, would definitely AS I have the ability to enroll in internet marketer services?.

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