A personal trainer in Abu Dhabi who broke her back in a kite surfing accident is determined to walk again despite facing up to a year in hospital.
On April 29, at Yas Kite Beach, Iuliana Chiorpec, 41, suffered multiple fractures after a sudden, strong gust of wind hurled her into the air.
Ms Chiorpec fractured the C5 and C6 vertebrae in her spine. She also had a compressed fracture of the thoracic vertebrae that support the back and provide a protective cage around the delicate organs.
She also suffered a prolapsed disc, which is when the soft cushion of tissue between the bones in the spine pushes out, causing pain by pressing on the nerves.
After being rescued from the beach by fellow kite surfers, Ms Chiorpec was admitted to the neurosurgical department at Sheikh Shakbout Medical City.
Her symptoms included severe neck pain, numbness in her arm and complete loss of movement in her legs.
“It was a nice windy day, but my kite was too big for the wind so I was waiting for it to drop,” said Ms Chiorpec, who is from Romania and had been kite surfing for just a year.
“When I felt it was not too strong I asked the guys on the beach if it was OK and they said yes.
“I was walking on the beach with my kite and a wind gust flipped and pulled it, snatching my neck and then dropping me to the beach.
“It pulled me from the waist, and I was holding the bar but not firmly so my head jerked back suddenly and I fell to the ground.”
Ms Chiorpec remained conscious, but could not feel her arms or legs.
An ambulance was called and arrived about 45 minutes later.
First responders walked 400 metres on to the beach and then carried her to a waiting ambulance.
“The doctors asked if I wanted to do surgery, but I had no one with me so I was scared,” Ms Chiorpec said.
“I signed the forms with my fingerprint because I could not use my hands.
“The surgery was risky, but after four hours I came round and the surgeons had screwed my broken vertebrae together.”
On the way to recovery
Ms Chiorpec was then transferred to the hospital’s intensive care unit where she continued to recover.
Since then she has been recovering at the Cambridge Medical & Rehabilitation Centre in Abu Dhabi where she faces months of rehabilitation.
Her mother has flown out to support her recovery.
Doctors treating Ms Chiorpec said traumatic spinal cord injuries such as hers are rare, but the early signs of progress are good.
“Iuliana’s response was acceptable because her surgery was done in the first six hours after she got injured,” said Dr Rober Hanna Kassab a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist at the centre.
“She currently has sensation in both her lower limbs.
“Additionally, she has movement in both her shoulders and elbows, which is a good sign for a recovery journey.
“On the first day of her admission, a customised care and rehabilitation plan was set by an interdisciplinary clinical team, with the main focus to restore her functions as much as we can.
"The aim is to increase her movement ability for both lower and upper limbs in the coming months, as well as to have Iuliana regain her bladder and bowel control.
“What Iuliana could need in the future will depend on her improvement and how she will be in the later few months, how her body will help her to adapt and the day-to-day improvements along with the therapies provided to her.
“In the near future, we will be with her along the way to provide the support and help she might need.”
Friends hope she will be moved to a specialist rehabilitation clinic using a robotic assisted cradle, which can help to improve mobility in people after an accident.
Treatment is available at Reem Hospital, but the fees are about Dh100,000 a month.
“At the beginning, I could not use my hands or raise my arms, but it has got gradually better,” Ms Chiorpec said.
“I could feel my strength was slipping away, but there has been some slow progress.
“Now I can lift my arms over my head and I am getting sensation back in my legs.
“The doctors have not said when I may be able to walk again, it depends on my body and brain and how I react to the rehab.
“I know I am lucky to be alive, I can eat and breathe by myself so I am trying to stay positive day by day and see the progress.”