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His type of injury normally causes one to become a paraplegic, but just days after neurosurgeons at Barrow Neurological Institute repaired his spinal cord, Christiansen was walking again.
“I have never seen a patient with this type of injury make the recovery Ryan is making,” says Steve Chang, MD, neurosurgeon at Barrow and Christiansen’s surgeon. “Ryan’s spinal cord injury is among the most severe. It not only instantly paralyzed him, but the location of the injury affects one’s ability to breathe.”
Christiansen, 32, from Chandler had just made the Power MMA team when he became injured rehearsing a common maneuver during a practice in May. He was airlifted to Barrow for surgery. Upon arrival to Barrow, Dr. Chang performed a complex surgery to remove the ruptured disc which had torn through Christiansen’s spinal cord. Barrow, which is located at Dignity Health’s St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center, is world renowned for treating the most difficult brain and spinal cord injuries.
“I was told that I would become a paraplegic and never walk again,” says Christiansen. “That news was hard for me to take. I’ve been doing martial arts for many years and have always been active. I couldn’t see myself in a wheelchair for the rest of my life.”
Just days following surgery however, Christiansen was walking again.
“I couldn’t believe it,” says Christiansen. “Someone was watching out for me and I’m grateful I was taken to Barrow where they specialize in treating these types of severe spinal cord injuries.”
The spinal cord is comprised of a bundle of nerves that run down the middle of the back and carries signals between the body and brain. When an injury to the spinal cord occurs, it disrupts the signals and can cause loss of movement among other serious complications such as breathing.
“The type of injury Ryan sustained is rare,” says Dr. Chang. “Many patients with this injury are permanently paralyzed but for those who do walk again after surgery, it can take months. Ryan still has a lot of therapy ahead of him, but I am very pleased with how well he is progressing.”
Christiansen is grateful that his recovery has been so remarkable.
“This experience taught me that anything can happen at any time,” says Christiansen. “I was athletic and in the military and the next thing you know I'm severely injured from a common maneuver I've done hundreds of times. I’m grateful for Dr. Chang and Barrow for saving my life.”