A Chinese arthritis patient whose severe spinal deformity gave him the nickname ‘Folding Man’ has walked out of hospital standing up straight for the first time in 28 years.
Li Hua, 46, left Shenzhen University General Hospital in China’s southern province of Guangdong on 13th June following a full year of treatment and four life-changing surgeries, the city’s health commission reported on 10th July.
Now able to stand and sit up straight, it means Mr Li has a chance to finally look after his ageing mother, Tang Dongchen, 71, who became his full time carer in her 40s.
Mr Li, whose family is from Yongzhou in Central China’s Hunan Province, is known as China’s ‘Folding Man’ or ‘Penknife Man’ because of a condition called ankylosing spondylitis.
Also known as Bechterew’s disease, it is a severe form of inflammatory arthritis which began affecting his spine and large joints at the age of 18.
Mr Li eventually became so hunchbacked that his face was pressed against his legs, leaving him a 5-centimetre (2-inch) gap between his chin and thighs.
His doctor, Professor Tao Huiren, likened treating the complex spinal condition as “climbing Mount Everest”.
Mr Li, who entire body appeared to fold on itself, was described as China’s only ‘three-on’ patient: chin on chest, sternum on pubis, and face on femur.
His leaving hospital – a year to the day he was admitted in 2019 – came just before his 46th birthday on 28th June.
Professor Tao told Shenzhen-based documentary makers Ergeng TV: “Li Hua had what is known as ankylosing spondylitis. The serious spinal deformity can put pressure on his heart and lungs, leading to a loss of organ function and eventually death.
“From the perspective of medical skills required, it was like climbing Mount Everest.”
The professor and his team at the teaching hospital spent two weeks creating a treatment plan and another three months preparing Mr Li for surgery.
The series of four high-risk surgeries took place between 15th August and 31st October last year, and involved breaking Mr Li’s bones in sections and straightening them out again.
The longest of the operations took 10 hours and 25 minutes on 18th September.
Despite the real possibility of Mr Li becoming a paraplegic or even dying on the operating table, his parent Ms Tang felt there was no other choice, having already exhausted all her options.
She said: “Of course, I was concerned, but there was no other way after more than 20 years of hardship.
“I started looking for ways to treat him when I was in my 40s. I’m now 71.
“In the past, I’d hear people say this or that place could cure him, so I’d bring him there. I spent all my money, but nothing worked.
“If he isn’t cured and I die, who will take care of him?”
Mr Li’s successful surgeries were followed by half a year of intense rehabilitation. He was able to stand with the help of a walker but can now walk on his own for short periods.
He said: “I’m just very happy to be able to sleep lying flat again. I hadn’t slept on my back for more than 20 years.
“The first time I saw my mother after surgery, I suddenly realised how much she had aged while taking care of me all these years.
“She couldn’t take care of me forever, so I wanted to cure this disease and reduce her burden.
“To me, Professor Tao is my saviour.
“There would’ve been no cure for me without him.”
Professor Tao, who said he had never treated such as severe case of spinal arthritis in his career, called Mr Li “strong-willed”.
The Ananova page is created by and dedicated to professional, independent freelance journalists. It is a place for us to showcase our work. When our news is sold to our media partners, we will include the link here.