Defying the Odds: Neurosurgery Patient Walks Again

April 21, 2016 Brigham and Women's Hospital

Anthony Hodges is walking again after a car accident left him paralyzed.

Dr. Yi Lu, a neurosurgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), was moved to tears when 23-year-old Anthony Hodges walked into the Neurosurgery clinic for a follow-up appointment.

“I couldn’t believe it,” says Dr. Lu, who performed emergency spine surgery on Anthony after a car accident left him paralyzed. “With his type of complete spinal cord injury, Anthony had less than a five percent chance of ever walking again. His case was a miracle.”

In July 2015, Anthony, the former captain of the Salem State University basketball team, was riding in the passenger seat during a car accident. The crash left Anthony unable to move his hands, legs, or feet. He was rushed to BWH for surgery, where doctors determined that he had a complete spinal cord injury – an injury that often results in the permanent loss of function below the injury site, which, in Anthony’s case, was a spinal disc near the back of his neck. During surgery, which occurred just six hours after the accident, a surgical team removed a broken vertebra that was pressing on Anthony’s spinal cord and replaced it with a bone graft that was stabilized with a titanium plate.

Dr. Lu, whose research is focused on spinal cord injury, said because Anthony was brought into surgery so quickly following the accident and because he was young, in good physical shape, and otherwise healthy, his chances of recovering were somewhat better. Still, Dr. Lu was not optimistic that Hodges would be able to walk again. Dr. Lu often sees patients who recover from incomplete spinal cord injuries – where some feeling or movement still exists below the point of injury  but it is very rare to see a patient regain movement after a complete or near complete spinal cord injury.

Anthony remained paralyzed for several days following surgery, but he refused to give up hope that he would be walking and playing basketball again. After regaining feeling in his feet in the ICU, Anthony was transferred to Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, where he began to make even more progress.

Now, almost 10 months since the accident, Anthony is able to walk on his own and is getting stronger every day. While he still experiences some weakness on his left side due to nerve damage, he’s able to jog again. He goes to the gym as often as possible, attends physical therapy weekly, and has reconnected with his basketball trainer. He said he won’t stop reaching for his goal of playing on the team when he returns to Salem State this fall for his final year of college.

“The Brigham was very good to me,” says Anthony. “I appreciate all that Dr. Lu and the care team have done for me. They got me back on my feet again.”

Learn more about the Neurosurgical Spine Service at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

– Kim H.

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