Spine Surgery – Cody’s Story

Teen with severe spine injury making comeback

Santa Monica High School junior, Cody

by Denise Dador, Los Angeles (KABC) -- LOS ANGELES -- People with severe spinal cord injuries rarely survive a month or two after an accident. Actor Christopher Reeve managed to live 15 years after his injury. One local teenager is also beating the odds. When it comes to severe spinal cord injuries, all doctors can do is stabilize the spine and hope for the best. Less than two years ago, it looked pretty bad for 18-year-old Cody Williams.

The Santa Monica High School junior tackled a quarterback as he tried to enter the end zone on Sept. 11, 2009. "As he was going up, his knee made contact with my face mask and just kind of jerked my neck back, and I just blacked out for a little bit," Williams said. Williams was paralyzed. Paramedics transported him to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. The force of the injury snapped his neck. "As soon as I saw the films, I knew that it was a very devastating injury," said Dr. Langston Holly of UCLA Medical Center. The severity and location were close to the injury actor Christopher Reeve suffered.

It took nine hours for Holly to stabilize the front and back of Williams' neck, but how well he'd recover was unknown. "History just shows that the vast majority of these people will not make a significant life changing improvement," Holly said. Home video shows how Williams is able to use his arms and his legs. "With braces on my legs, I can take about 20 to 30 steps," Williams said.

One of the keys in his recovery was the fact that he got into surgery so quickly, and surgeons were able to stabilize his spine. But the fact that he can use both his arms and is making strides in walking, doctors say that is all the teen's effort. Williams just started an experimental medication designed to support spinal cord healing. His family hopes the drug, along with physical therapy, will help him get even stronger.

At the UCLA Health Spine Center, our experts diagnose, manage and treat all spinal injuries and conditions.

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