Surgery saves boy from spinal damage
Ethan Nunn with physiotherapist Nicola Hanlin. Picture: John Mokrzycki, The West Australian

Perth doctors have worked against the clock to prevent a Leeman boy being left paralysed from the waist down and never able to walk again.

Only weeks ago, Ethan Nunn went from being a healthy nine-year-old to a frightened young boy facing the prospect of permanent paralysis and loss of bladder and bowel function.

The clock was ticking as doctors had a crucial 48-hour window of opportunity to remove a cyst that was compressing his spine, making him numb and unable to move his legs.

But thanks to quick action by staff at Princess Margaret Hospital who performed emergency surgery and started him on intensive rehabilitation, he has made a remarkable recovery and is expected to have full function of his legs and lower body.

PMH neurosurgeon Sharon Lee said Ethan started feeling weak in his legs last month and within days was unable to walk or control his bladder or bowel. He was diagnosed with a suspected neurenteric cyst on his spine.

"When you compress the spinal cord, you only have a finite time to repair it before you get permanent damage, so you have a 24 to 48-hour time limit when you have to get in there to release the compression, otherwise the outcome is very poor," Dr Lee said.

"Ethan stopped walking on a Monday morning, got into hospital in the afternoon and had an MRI and the surgery was done on the Tuesday."

Surgeons removed the cyst from the spinal cord and put in a shunt to drain fluid and prevent further compression.

Dr Lee said thanks to follow-up rehabilitation in PMH's physiotherapy department, Ethan was starting to walk again.

The bowel and bladder were normally very sensitive to neurological damage but Ethan was regaining their use.

"It's a fantastic outcome for him, especially for such a young boy with his whole life ahead of him," Dr Lee said.

His mother, Naomi Shipway, said it had been a nerve-racking experience knowing Ethan might have been left paralysed.

"He had been complaining of a sore back but then it came on so quickly that within days he was crawling at home and I had to piggyback him to Silver Chain," she said. "We knew what was at stake and it was very scary, so we're so relieved how well he's done."

The West Australian

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