From being in a wheelchair to walking in just two weeks, 80-year-old farmer Hamdan Sulaiman has proved what can be achieved with a helping hand from Al Jalila Foundation.
The charity will celebrate its second anniversary on Wednesday, and its support of Mr Sulaiman by paying for his Dh150,000 spinal operation is the latest example of its A’awen programme, which is changing lives in Dubai and farther afield.
Mr Sulaiman, from Oman, is blind and when he was hit by the sudden onset of lumbar spinal stenosis, brought on by years of hard labour and osteoarthritis, his quality of life deteriorated further.
He became incontinent and was unable to walk, and with little funds to pay for a corrective procedure, the future looked bleak.
He was referred to the Dubai Bone and Joint Centre, a clinic working in partnership with Al Jalila Foundation.
Orthopaedic spinal surgeon Dr Zbigniew Brodzinski assessed Mr Sulaiman and agreed to perform surgery to help realign vertebrae that had slipped within his spinal column.
“Around 25 to 30 per cent of the population here in Dubai will suffer from this kind of condition,” the surgeon said.
“Mr Sulaiman’s spine had become very unstable with slipped vertebrae, so he had gone from being fairly mobile to being paralysed in just a couple of weeks.
“It is an acquired condition, brought on by osteoarthritis. All of his nerves inside the spinal column were squeezed because of the instability.”
Usually, the effects of the osteoarthritis experienced by Mr Sulaiman would take 10 years to appear. Because his spinal column had narrowed, the paralysing effect of the condition appeared within two weeks.
Using a new, minimally invasive technique from the US with a short recovery time, Mr Sulaiman was placed on his right side and surgeons realigned his spine with a 360-degree fusion – where vertebrae are joined – using screws.
Dubai is the only place in the Middle East where this spinal surgery can be completed, due to the technical training of specialists and equipment required. Dr Brodzinski said: “Before, if we wanted to do this major procedure in older gentlemen, there was a very high mortality risk – around 30 to 40 per cent of people died. With new techniques and technology, the process is a lot safer, and quicker.
“The mortality rate is now just 0.5 per cent.”
The surgery was completed in two steps in one procedure on February 28 at City Hospital. Mr Sulaiman, who said the surgery had changed his life, should make a full recovery within 12 months.
“I had a pain in my lower back before. I could not sit and could only lie on my front,” Mr Sulaiman said.
“Now I can sit properly and I have started to walk again. The difference has been amazing. Without Al Jalila, I would still not be able to walk.”
Mohammed Kenbaz, the director of operations at the Dubai Bone and Joint Centre, said the procedure was the most complex it had taken on so far in association with Al Jalila.
“The foundation covered the full cost of the City Hospital, as well as the physiotherapy and post-op procedures and MRI scans,” he said. “It has changed the patient’s life. He has gone from being in a wheelchair to walking in just 15 days.”
Other A’awen investments include cancer treatments, the purchase of wheelchairs, hearing aids, prosthetics and other specialised treatments.
Last year, Al Jalila Foundation, which was set up by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, and named after his daughter, paid Dh1.5 million to treat more than 40 patients, allowing them to lead more productive lives.
The charity is reliant on the generosity of individuals, communities and businesses, and funds go directly to chosen initiatives.
Dr Abdulkareem Sultan Al Olama, the chief executive of the foundation, said: “We are a new foundation so we try to be unique in what we do. We have a relatively small budget so we want to take on cases that will make a big difference and turn people’s lives around 180 degrees.
“We have a small amount of money we try to dedicate to each case. Every operation is very expensive, but we study each case carefully and tell the patient how much we can cover.
“Our aim is to support that person and change their life.”