Surgeon criticises 'breakthrough' claims for spinal injury patients


Reports of a “breakthrough” that raises the possibility that paralysed people might walk again have been sharply criticised by the director of the National Spinal Injuries Unit.

Orthopaedic and trauma surgeon Keith Synnott described reports that paralysed people treated with stem cells had experienced feeling in lower limbs, and so might be able to walk again, as “bulls**t”.

Mr Synnott was speaking in advance of the launch this morning of the Christmas Road Safety Campaign, which is being held in the National Spinal Injuries Unit, in the Mater hospital. The Christmas campaign, which aims to reduce the annual toll of serious injuries on the roads at this time of year, will highlight how life can change irrevocably in a few seconds in a road crash.

All spinal injury victims in the Republic pass through the unit, many in the first hours following a spinal trauma. A family room is provided where relatives can discuss with medical staff the implications of the trauma and the possibilities for future care.

Despite the emotional upset, the unit does not have the services of a psychologist, “although we have been asking for one for 20 years”, said Mr Synnott.

But he said the numbers of people being paralysed through road traffic incidents could, and had been, reduced.

He said the 10-bed unit would see about 120 paralysed people per year, of that 60 to 70 were paralysed by trauma and in the past most of these were road traffic victims.

However, since the reduction in road fatalities and serious injuries in recent years, the number of patients arriving as a result of road incidents was down to about 15 – about a quarter of what it was five years ago.