Retired GP saved from wheelchair by cutting edge surgery

A retired GP has been saved from life in a wheelchair by cutting-edge spinal surgery at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

Dr Col Ding, 65, had a �35,000 titanium cage fitted around his spine to replace three vertebrae which were destroyed by infection.

Had the life-changing operation not taken place Dr Ding, who does charity work in South Sudan and treated patients at his practice in Cromer for more than three decades, would now be confined to a wheelchair.

The operation was carried out by Mr Am Rai, an expert spinal surgeon at the hospital, who told the Evening News: 'It's really cutting edge. It's a great thing that the NHS can provide this treatment,' said Mr Rai.

It was while on holiday in Africa in 2006 that Dr Ding contracted an infection of TB and salmonella which spread to his spinal column.

After returning to his Cromer home he fell into a coma and was rushed to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital where he lay unconscious for four weeks.

For two painful years he battled constant infections and eventually slipped into another coma, when his family were convinced he would die.

Most Read

By this point Dr Ding had lost half of his body weight and could barely move or stand upright by himself.

It was then that Mr Rai did the 'cutting edge' procedure. To battle constant infections he removed the damaged bones from his spine, leaving a large gap.

In a 12-hour operation a titanium support was put in place of the missing vertebrae.

'When he was admitted he was very, very ill, he couldn't do anything,' said Mr Rai.

'He was close to death really. When the infection affected the bone he had difficulty walking. He couldn't hold himself up.

'You've got to take out all the dead bone, and once you do that there's a big gap to fill,' he added.

As well as the metal cage, which was filled with medical cement and antibiotics, a new technique was also employed to encourage new bone to grow and repair the spine.

A substance called bone morphogenic protein (BMP) was used, which attracts cells that stimulated new bone growth and filled the gap left.

'He's doing very well. He's a pretty strong man, because he went through a lot.'

Without the surgery Mr Rai said the patient would have been paralysed.

Although BMP has been used successfully in the US in recent years, it is rarely used in the UK and Mr Rai at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital is pioneering its use.

Dr Ding, who is leaving for Sudan on Wednesday to advise the government on healthcare, said he is grateful to Mr Rai for his work.

He said that at his worst he was 'just a skeleton'.

'I couldn't walk. I had to struggle with getting up. I was a gone person, I was dead really.

'I can do anything, but I can't run or box. Mr Rai is very good, he's amazing.'

Has your life been changed by a medical procedure? Call health correspondent Kim Briscoe on 01603 772419, or email