Sudden Paralysis Leads to Emergency Spinal Surgery

The chest pains came out of nowhere. What was supposed to be a pleasant family visit became the start of a life-altering patient journey for James Bells of Zephyr when he was visiting family in Fergus, in January 2016.

James Bells

James Bells

“I was scared out of my wits,” James recalls. “I visited the local hospital, where they suspected the pain was caused by angina. I was given blood thinners and I recovered in the hospital for three days.”

During his stay in Fergus, James was jarred awake in the middle of the night when his body seemed to take on a life of its own.

“My arms and legs started spasming uncontrollably. I thought I was having a heart attack. Later that day, I started losing sensation in my legs. Soon I had no feeling from the armpits down and I was paralyzed.”

James was rushed by ambulance to Hamilton General Hospital, where he was placed under the care of Dr. Drew Bednar. An MRI scan indicated that James was suffering from spinal hematoma, in which blood collects outside of blood vessels in the vertebral column and puts dangerous pressure on the spinal cord.

“I was told that the damage to my spinal cord could be permanent if the blood clot wasn’t removed,” James explains. “I was terrified that I would be spending the rest of my life in a wheelchair.”

Emergency surgery was conducted to remove the blood clot and avoid serious damage to his spinal cord. Sensation and motor function soon began to return and James spent the next three weeks recovering at The General.

“The nurses and doctors were amazing and they gave me lots of encouragement. I received outstanding care during this challenging ordeal.”
– James Bells

After James was discharged from The General, he continued to focus on rehabilitation therapy. By March, James was able to walk with the aid of poles. His strength and balance slowly returned and he was able to resume driving in the fall. Now he is able to walk independently and he can even jog for short distances. The future looks bright for James, with his condition improving steadily every day.

“I owe so much to the folks at Hamilton General Hospital, not just because of the operation and the physiotherapy, but because they helped me keep a positive mindset when the going got tough. I’m walking again today because of them.”

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