Riding a Waikiki wave robs a man of his legs
Joe Guintu's big goal is to walk down the aisle next year.
The 25-year-old Southern Californian has not walked for more than a year because of surfer's myelopathy.
Guintu and his fiancee, Ivette Flores, came to Hawaii for a cousin's wedding and went surfing at Waikiki on March 12 last year. It was his first experience on a board.
He said he caught a wave on his first try and was "actually very good at surfing."
When he noticed a sharp pain in his lower back, he thought it was muscles he had not used before.
When his pain persisted, he went to a doctor, who sent him by ambulance to Straub Clinic & Hospital, where his injury was diagnosed.
He was at Straub for five days, then transferred to the Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific, where he began to learn how to live in a wheelchair. After five days there he was transferred to Craig Hospital in Denver for intensive training and therapy for two months.
He returned home to Southern California on May 11, 2007.
He was paralyzed from the stomach down but now has a little more abdominal strength, he said in a telephone interview. "It is a very slow process, but it is getting a little better."
Guintu said he returned last March to his job in a risk-analysis consulting firm. He had been going to therapy five days a week in San Diego and Long Beach and now goes at least twice a week, he said.
He participated in a bike marathon in Los Angeles, using a hand cycle.
Guintu's story is posted on a Web site, and he put up a blog for people to contact him about surfer's myelopathy.
"I can sympathize with them, what they've gone through," he said. "For me, I'm just trying the best I can to be able to walk again and have life normal."
He and Flores were engaged in February and plan a September 2009 wedding.
She plans to establish a nonprofit surfer's myelopathy foundation.
"Her goal is awareness, research and education for surfer's schools," said Guintu.
NONTRAUMATIC SPINE INJURY
Surfer's myelopathy is a condition affecting novice surfers who arch their back too frequently or too long while on a surfboard. The arching reduces blood flow to the spine, which can cause paralysis of the legs. In a landmark study published in 2004 in the journal Spine, doctors at Straub Clinic & Hospital reported nine cases between June 1998 and January 2003. The average age was 25.
Of the nine:
» Three recovered completely.
» Four had mild residual weakness but with full feeling.
» Three had persistent urinary trouble.
» One remained paraplegic.
Source: National Center for Biotechnology Information