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Chengdu doctor helps his patients stand tall

By HUANG ZHILING/DONG LAN | China Daily | Updated: 2017-09-08 09:21

Doctor Liang Yijian returned to his office on Thursday afternoon after operating on a patient with a bent spine, only to find two other patients waiting for him.

They wanted to take a photograph with him.

"Doctor Liang is famous but very nice to patients. We believe he will improve our condition," said Feng Cheng, 24, from Anhui province, who also has a bent spine, or scoliosis.

Liang, head of the orthopedics department at Third People's Hospital of Chengdu in Sichuan province, achieved national fame in February when he was honored during CCTV's annual "Touching China" awards.

His department is recognized nationwide for its unique methods that have helped almost 1,000 scoliosis patients to walk tall again.

Scoliosis is a medical condition in which a patient's spine has a sideways curve. It can damage the heart and lungs if the curvature exceeds 100 degrees, and a bend of that much or more is difficult to treat. Three-fourths of the patients who come to see Liang suffer from a curvature of at least 130 degrees.

China has 5 million scoliosis patients.

In Liang's department, corrective measures involve inserting four metal rods into a patent's torso to help straighten the back before a surgeon removes the most protruding bone without touching the spinal cord.

A scoliosis patient's height may increase dramatically after the procedure.

Wu Cailin, a farmer in Yanyuan county in Sichuan's Liangshan Yi autonomous prefecture, was less than 1.3 meters tall because his spine curved nearly 120 degrees. His chest almost touched his thighs and he could only look down while walking.

After the operation, he is 1.78 meters tall and owns a rural resort in his home county. Following media reports on his life-changing story, more patients have come to Chengdu to seek help.

Another patient was a taxi driver in Wuhan, Hubei province, who was 37 years old in 2010 when he sought Liang's help.

He was embarrassed when collecting his nine-year-old son from school and would not go to the gate, instead staying in a lane near the school to prevent the boy's schoolmates from seeing him and then teasing his son.

Juveniles are ideal subjects for treatment, but many patients in the department are 20 to 30 because they live in remote, rural areas with little access to medical information.

There are 90 beds in the department that are always full.

"Some 600 patients are waiting for beds," Liang said.

Only four surgeons, including Liang, are qualified to operate. Surgery can last up to seven hours. An individual surgeon may operate on 40 patients a month.

In addition to treating those who visit the department, surgeons visit remote areas where patients lack the means to search them out.

In June, Liang stayed at the Red Cross Hospital in Xining, Qinghai province, for two days, operating on six patients. One of them suffered from a curvature of 180 degrees.

A year earlier, Liang and a colleague visited Dafang, a poverty-stricken county in Guizhou province, for two days, consulting with more than 100 scoliosis patients whose primary desire is simple: to lead a decent life.

Liang said that's what inspires him.

Dong Lan contributed to this story.

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