Local News

Wendell Man Takes Chance On Experimental Spinal Cord Surgery

Posted November 28, 2003 8:22 a.m. EST

— A story of hope is unfolding for a young man paralyzed in August. Justin Richardson, 22, of Wendell, just returned home after receiving an experimental procedure in Israel.

Richardson hopes it will improve his chances of walking again.

For almost four months, friends and family could only pray for Justin Richardson. Now,they are adding hugs and kisses.

On Aug.10, Richardson dove head first into a shallow swimming pool, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down.

"Immediately when I surfaced from the water I knew what had happened," he said.

Doctors told Richardson his paralysis was permanent.

"Originally, I was told that I may have to be on a ventilator or respirator for the rest of my life. So I kind of beat that from the beginning," he said.

Then Richardson learned he might even be able to beat the paralysis with the help of an experimental procedure in Israel.

"I knew that it was experimental, but it was a risk I was willing to take," he said.

The surgery involved re-generating nerve cells with the help of white blood cells taken from a skin graft. Of 14 patients who have had the surgery, only three have regained some sensation or movement.

The biggest challenge for Richardson was the procedure had to be done within 14 days of injury.

"Within three days of me being approached by my family of the possibility of the trip to Israel, I was on a plane for Tel Aviv," he said.

Richardson's mother stayed with him at Sheba Hospital near Tel Aviv. Three weeks after the surgery, he noticed a change.

"I would say maybe at least 75 percent of my body has feeling that has returned to it," Richardson said.

There is feeling, but no movement. That could take a couple months or years if it ever happens at all.

"I'd love to get better, but if I don't, I feel pretty good knowing that the information they learned from my injury may be helpful to someone else," he said.

Richardson is thankful to be able to offer hope for others and still have hope for himself.

"Thankful to be alive. Thankful for the small things that are taken for granted on a daily basis," he said.

Proneuron Biotechnologies

of Delaware developed the experimental procedure.