Ethiopian worker saved from paralysis after 12-hour spine surgery

Fawzia C is looking forward to returning to work after being struck down with an 'extremely rare' spinal infection

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, August 20, 2019.  Al Mafraq Hospital doctors.  (R-L)  Dr. Walid Khalifa, Specialist and Dr. Robert Veres, Neurosurgery Consultant.
Victor Besa/The National
Section:  NA
Reporter:  Shireena Al Nowais
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A domestic worker left paralysed by a rare spinal infection is recovering well after surgery lasting 12 hours.

Fawzia C underwent two major operations to remove parts of her spinal column at an Abu Dhabi hospital.

She gradually lost sensation in her arms and legs in recent months until the point where she could not stand. She was taken to Mafraq hospital in a wheelchair.

“I was never sick or ill. I don’t know how this happened to me,” said the woman, 35, who asked that her full name not be made public. She has worked for a family in Abu Dhabi since arriving in the UAE last year.

Inflammation destroyed part of her neck and her spine. If we had not proceeded with surgery, she would have become paralysed

Fawzia was found to have a form of tuberculosis that affects the bones rather than the lungs, as is more common.

Inflammation from the infection “destroyed part of her neck and her spine”, said consultant neurosurgeon Dr Robert Veres.

“Specifically at the junction between the spine and her neck – the last two cervical in the neck and first two in the thoracic spine,” he said.

The thoracic spine runs from the base of the neck down to the abdomen.

“If we had not the surgery, she would have become paralysed,” he said.

"This is the first type of surgery in the UAE in which three consecutive vertebrae were removed and replaced."

The operation cost more than Dh200,000, which was covered by her mandatory medical insurance.

It was performed on June 29 by Dr Veres, specialist neurosurgeon Dr Walid Khalifa and a team at the hospital. Three damaged vertebrae were removed and replaced with metallic discs and artificial bone.

Screws and a metal plate fix keep the new vertebrae in place. A second surgery followed two weeks later.

“This infection did not show in her visa medical tests and is known to be extremely rare”, Dr Khalifa said.

“This is also a very rare surgery that needed skill and the latest technology.”

Fawzia has spent the past two months recovering with relatives in Ajman. She will need ongoing physiotherapy but wants to return to work soon.

She supports family in her home country and has a daughter, aged five.

“I’m very grateful to Dr Veres and Dr Khalifa. I don’t want to go back to Ethiopia and I would like to remain in the UAE and work,” she said.

“I am fine now. Just my hands hurt a little. It was very bad before.”