Spinal surgery put nearly paralyzed dance instructor on road to recovery

January 26, 2023 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health
Categories: Healthy Driven Heroes

Potty training a puppy takes patience and love. Most pet parents know how hard it can be. Mauricio Fernandez’s story with his new puppy became a life-changing experience.

During a late-night bathroom break in October 2022, Fernandez, 29, of Lombard, was carrying his three-month old puppy down the stairs when the puppy jumped from his arms. Not wanting the puppy to get hurt, he tried to grab him. Within seconds, Fernandez tumbled down the stairs.

“Where are my legs?” Fernandez recalls saying to his wife who ran to check on him and found him sprawled across the floor.

It became the longest night of his life. Fernandez was transferred to Elmhurst Hospital where he underwent multiple tests. It was also where he was introduced to Gustavo Chagoya Gazcon, M.D., neurological surgeon with Edward-Elmhurst Medical Group.

Dr. Chagoya told Fernandez he had suffered a severe spinal cord injury.

Based on the results of a CAT scan and MRI, he discovered Fernandez had a congenitally narrow spine. After conferencing with other surgeons, Dr. Chagoya thought it would be too risky to wait for the inflammation to subside on its own, as his spine did not have room to accommodate the swelling in his spinal cord.

Within a day of his fall, Fernandez was undergoing surgery on his spinal cord. He describes it as happening within the blink of an eye. “I went into survival mode,” he says. “I knew I might be paralyzed. There was no say that I’d be able to walk on my own again, but I thought, let’s wait and see what happens,” he recalls.

Fernandez started physical therapy immediately after surgery. He noticed he had a slight sensation of movement within his legs, but he couldn’t lift them on his own.

The second day after surgery, his team of therapists wanted him to practice walking. He remembers having five people help him move. With each passing day, the team increased the distance he moved with his walker. The feeling in his hands slowly started to come back.

“I’m going to do everything in my power to get better.”

“There was no reason to cry or complain. I can’t make my accident not happen,” he says.

Fernandez was transferred to a rehabilitation center a week after his surgery so he could continue to work on his mobility. His determination didn’t go unnoticed; his doctors and physical therapists saw the progress he was making.

Around Thanksgiving, Fernandez learned the true meaning of being thankful — he began walking without any support.

“Through this whole ordeal, Mauricio has had the most contagious positive attitude. From the moment we met in the ER that eventful morning to the most recent time he came back to my clinic, he has been an inspiration to many with his ability to take things as they come and adjust,” Dr. Chagoya says.

Just a few months ago, Fernandez was unable to move on his own. Thanks to his commitment to his health, he has returned to teaching dance classes.

With time his skills have improved, but he says he has a long way to go in order to get back to his activity level before the accident. He credits the support of Dr. Chagoya, nurses, physical therapists, his family and students around the world for helping him get through his surgery and recovery. Dr. Chagoya credits Fernandez's hard work for his success.

“It’s true that without surgery there was a very real chance Mauricio may not have ever walked again, but surgery by itself can only do so much. Surgery only bought him a ticket back to the dance, he is the one that has made the most of it with his motivation and relentless drive to get better,” Dr. Chagoya recalls. “I look forward to watching him on stage soon.”

Gustavo Chagoya Gazcon, M.D., is a neurological surgeon with Edward-Elmhurst Medical Group. View his profile and schedule an appointment online.

Learn more about neurosciences at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

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HDHeroes Mauricio Fernandez1crop

Spinal surgery put nearly paralyzed dance instructor on road to recovery

In October 2022, Mauricio Fernandez, 29, of Lombard, tumbled down the stairs. Within a day of his fall, Fernandez was...

Read More