'Marathon' surgery helps mountain biker walk again

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Cairns man Thomas Dimes is recovering after suffering horrific spinal injuries from a mountain bike crash that nearly left him unable to walk again.

Cairns man Thomas Dimes is recovering after suffering horrific spinal injuries from a mountain bike crash that nearly left him unable to walk again.

A mountain biker who was told he may never walk again after a horrific downhill crash has made a miracle recovery, thanks to a marathon bout of surgery at Cairns Hospital.

Cairns man Thomas Dimes was mountain biking with friends in the foothills of Smithfield in November, when he crashed while attempting a jump.

‘I went headfirst, straight into the ground. I was lucky that my helmet probably took most of the brunt. It’s a total write-off now,’ he said.

Thomas happened to crash in front of a group of off-duty health workers, including surgeons and nurses, who were also mountain biking down the popular trails.

They helped stabilise Thomas until an ambulance arrived to rush him to Cairns Hospital.

There, doctors found Thomas had a fracture dislocation of his cervico-thoracic spine, meaning his back was broken in several places.

‘It was pretty bad. They didn’t think I would walk again,’ Thomas said.

Surgeons Dr Cameron Downes and Dr John Maunder were able to operate on Thomas that afternoon, not finishing until the following morning, approximately 12 hours later.

Thomas’ spine was pieced back together with two metal rods and many screws, ranging from the bottom of his neck down to the bottom of his ribs.

They were well supported by nursing and anaesthetic staff and orderlies, who also worked around the clock to help their patient.

Thomas has been in rehabilitation for the past three months, slowly but surely becoming strong enough to walk.

His doctors say their patient has made a remarkable recovery.

‘It’s amazing. We would always tell patients to expect the worse in a case like this,’ Dr Maunder said.

‘Thomas had flaccid paralysis in his right leg before the operation and after the operation, and I definitely thought he would have bowel and bladder disfunction for the rest of his life.

‘I went away for two days after Christmas, and came back and he was moving his ankle.

‘I then had the long weekend off over New Year’s and he was moving his whole leg, and now he’s walking around: it’s absolutely amazing.’

He said Thomas was incredibly lucky, as patients in similar falls had died from their injuries.

‘In medicine, it’s sometimes unrewarding,’ he said.

‘Cases like these are not all winners, but sometimes they are.

‘This makes it all seem worth it when you’re there working late at night: it makes a huge difference to the patients.

‘There’s still a long road of recovery for Thomas, but I remain optimistic that he will end up with a very good functional outcome - hopefully walking around, driving a car, even back at work.’

Dr Downes described Thomas’ recovery from his injuries as nothing short of a miracle.

‘These are feel-good moments in medicine that come off the back of hard work from the first responders, through to all the emergency and theatre staff involved, and an amazing amount of luck,’ he said.

Thomas said there was some nerve damage to his left leg, but he was otherwise fine.

‘My partner was pretty devastated when she heard about the accident,’ Thomas said.

‘But the prognosis is pretty good.

‘I think I’ll make a fully recovery and won’t be reliant on walking aids or anything.’