Healthy non-smokers more likely to get spinal injuries

GEORGINA STYLIANOU
Last updated 05:00 08/05/2012
Theo Feldbrugge
STACY SQUIRES/Fairfax NZ
SADDLED UP: Theo Feldbrugge is back on his bike after he broke his neck in a cycling accident.

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A Christchurch man was told it was "very unlikely" he would ever walk again after breaking his neck in a cycling accident.

Three years on, Theo Feldbrugge is back on his bike.

Feldbrugge, 56, broke his neck, was paralysed and could not walk for months after the fall.

"I was given a zero to 30 per cent chance of being able to walk again, but it didn't look good," he said.

"It's pretty incredible that I'm back on my bike again against all odds."

Feldbrugge was one of the 238 people who took part in a study led by six New Zealand doctors.

The research found that active, healthy non-smokers are more likely to suffer from spinal-cord injuries because they are the people who put themselves at risk of injury.

About 120 New Zealanders suffer from serious spinal-cord injuries each year.

Feldbrugge said his recovery would not have been as good if he had been unfit.

"The recovery I've made has been quite astounding in some ways," he said.

"People who are active might hurt themselves more, but they are more likely to have a body that can deal with it. I know that I wouldn't have been able to come as far as I've come if I wasn't an active, fit person all my life."

The study collected data from patients admitted to Christchurch's Burwood Spinal Unit and the Auckland Spinal Rehabilitation Unit over two years.

Maori and Pacific people were more likely to suffer spinal-cord injuries than other ethnicities.

Dr Martin Sullivan, of Massey University in Palmerston North, said the research paper was "just the start".

"There are a lot more things we can and will look into, and the difference in incidence rate for ethnic groups will definitely be one of them," he said.

Feldbrugge still suffers from pain and muscle spasms, and had impaired bowel and bladder functions.

"It can definitely make things a little tough at times, but you just deal with it," he said.

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