Neck Surgery Allows Paralyzed Olympian to Walk Down the Aisle

Two-time Olympian Jamie Nieto defied the odds this past weekend, walking his new bride down the aisle after having been told that he might never walk again. A spinal cord injury suffered 15 months earlier had left him partially paralyzed, with no feeling in his hands or feet. But following spine surgery to repair the damage and intensive rehabilitation, he was able to stand through his wedding ceremony, walk the long aisle at the church, then join his wife in a waiting limousine.

Nieto is a former Olympic high jumper whose journey began when he misjudged a backflip that had become a signature move after each successful jump. When demonstrating it for some jumpers that he was coaching in Los Angeles in April of 2016, he pushed off with one foot and slipped, landing with the full weight of his body on his neck. He was immediately airlifted to a hospital for fusion surgery to fix a disk in his neck, but was initially only able to flex his quadriceps muscles and shrug his shoulders. He spent 12 days in intensive care and 2 months in rehab before he was able to return home to rehabilitate further. He was in a wheelchair when he proposed to hurdler Shevon Stoddart.

Extensive Injuries Led to Neck Surgery

When Nieto first sustained his injury, the damage was unclear. He fell to the ground and was unable to move, and had difficulty breathing. Upon being airlifted to the USC Trauma Center he immediately had an MRI to assess the extent of his injuries. The MRI showed that the spine was not broken and the spinal cord was not cut, but that the C3 and C4 vertebrae were severely compressed and the disc had been forced forward into the spinal cord. His spine surgeon removed the disc, entering the neck from the front to access it and remove it. They also fused the spine together at C3 and C4.

Though an injury like the one that Nieto sustained is an emergent situation, fusion surgery can provide an answer to lower back pain as well. Lumbar spinal fusion provides improved stability, removing any discs that are herniated and then providing support and stabilization to the affected vertebrae through the use of a bone graft where the discs used to be. Screws and rods are also inserted into the surgical site to provide additional support. This procedure relieves pain that comes from degenerative disc conditions, spinal fractures, lumbar disc herniation, and more, and can be done using minimally invasive surgical techniques that allow patients to return home within a few days of surgery.

For Nieto, the neck fusion surgery and his subsequent hard work paid off. Speaking of his wedding day he said, “It’s a monumental day so I think I need to do monumental things.”

If you are suffering pain in your neck or back and would like to discuss available options with our Bergen County spine surgeon, contact our practice today to set up a time for a consultation.

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