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Paralysed soldier hoping to walk again with new surgery

WO2 Ian Witney Photo: Ian Witney

By Kris Jepson

A soldier from Hartlepool who is paralysed from the chest down is hoping to raise enough funds to secure surgery that could potentially help him walk again.

Thirty-seven-year-old Warrant Officer Ian Witney of the Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers has served in the military for 20 years, including completing three tours of Afghanistan.

In a tragic twist of fate, he was attacked by muggers whilst on holiday in Tenerife in 2016 and, as a result, he sustained injuries which damaged his spinal chord.

Watch @krisjepson's report here:

Ian Witney has embraced sport to keep him focused as he prepares for a new lecturing career when he is discharged from the army in March.

He believes his dream of walking again could be in sight, and he aims to raise more than fifty thousand pounds for new surgery in Thailand, which has been trialled at the University of Louisville in the US.

The treatment is called epidural stimulation. It is having an electronic device fitted into the lower part of your back and attached to the spinal chord. This device will then send electrical signals to my lower limbs, which will energise my lower limbs again and I will, with training, rigorous physio, will hopefully be able to get voluntary control of this and may be take a few steps and walk short distance.

– WO2 Ian Witney
WO2 Ian Witney Credit: Ian Witney

Trials of the treatment in America have found that using stimulators, alongside rehabilitation, has helped some paralysed patients walk short distances again.

The treatment is not available in the UK and one expert explained that larger studies are needed before it could be considered in this country.

If you look at the study, it looked at four patients and this has been over a very long period and if you imagine the number of spinal chord injured patients across the world, it's a huge amount. This forms a very small study and that's the reason this has not been adopted, because these are initial studies and, as I said, it's very encouraging for the patients, but I think it has to be tempered by the fact that we have seen a study on four patients with two patients regaining this kind of function.

– Nitin Shetty, Spinal surgeon