New Guidelines for Spinal Cord Injuries Helping Bay Area Surfer Walk Again - NBC Bay Area
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New Guidelines for Spinal Cord Injuries Helping Bay Area Surfer Walk Again

Matt Wetschler became the first person to benefit from newly-created guidelines developed at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital.

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    New Tech Helps Injured Surfer Walk Again

    A Bay Area surfer is taking his first steps again after suffering a traumatic spinal cord injury. Laura Malpert reports. (Published Friday, Dec. 22, 2017)

    A Bay Area surfer is taking his first steps again after suffering a traumatic spinal cord injury.

    Matt Wetschler became the first person to benefit from newly-created guidelines developed at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital.

    While many people in his situation might feel helpless, Wetschler said he is grateful for the fortunate circumstances following his injury.

    Wetschler is now re-learning how to walk step by step with the help of an anti-gravity balance system.

    Before the injury, you would likely find Wetschler body surfing at San Francisco's Ocean Beach.

    "I went for a wave and never came back," he said.

    A wave had slammed Wetschler head-first into the ocean floor. He suffered a traumatic spinal cord injury in his neck. A surfer found Wetschler floating face down in the water.

    "What he told me was my body was completely gray," Wetschler said. "I wasn't breathing and I didn't have a pulse."

    A doctor and an ICU-trained nurse happened to be near and performed CPR, bringing Wetschler back to life.

    "I was functionally dead," he said.

    Wetschler was taken to Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital where he became the first person in the United States to undergo new guidelines for treating traumatic spinal cord injuries, including aggressive ultra-early surgery that took place within the first 12 hours of the injury.

    The treatment also focused on the amount of blood flow to the spinal cord.

    "When Matt came into the hospital he had the most severe spinal cord injury imaginable. He was unable to move his arms and legs," said Dr. Sanjay Dhall, a neurosurgeon at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital. "Matt is yet another example of somebody who should have never recovered, but he did."

    Wetschler undergoes five hours of therapy a day. He expects a full recovery and hopes to end up where the journey started.

    "Strangely enough I was dragged lifeless out of the ocean and the one thing keeping me going is the thought of going back in," Wetschler said.

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