Surgical robot helps paralyzed man walk again

Reporter: Amy Oshier Writer: Rachel Murphy
Published: Updated:

A Fort Myers man recently put a surgical robot to the test, and his future is in the hands of science and faith.

Over the years, tree-trimmer Noah Higgins carved out a niche, pruning the tall palms that dot the Southwest Florida landscape. But one of them, a 20-footer, almost did him in. He shimmied up the tree, only to come crashing down.

“I wasn’t strapped in. So, I went flying on my back and landed in the grass. Thank goodness. But I broke my back,” said Higgins.

He was rushed to Gulf Coast Medical Center’s trauma unit, still grasping the seriousness of his injury.

“He came in paralyzed from the waist down, could not move or feel his legs, complete spinal cord injury. He had burst a vertebra in his back compressing the nerves,” said Doctor Michael Fromke, a neurosurgeon from Lee Health. “That surgery requires a very invasive and extremely bloody surgery.”

However, Higgins’ religious beliefs ran counter to the big spine surgery, and he wouldn’t budge.

That’s when a solution appeared. Lee Health had a new neurosurgery robot. Using one arm, inserting instruments through a small hole, it was meant to navigate small spaces. A big benefit is there’s much less blood loss because the robot arm can contort in ways a human can’t.

Fromke has used the robot several times before.

“We used the robot on him to do a very minimally invasive procedure with virtually no blood loss. I was able to restore and reduce the fracture back into normal alignment. And he made a full neurologic recovery,” said Fromke.

Science guided the surgeon’s hand and faith guided Noah’s conscience, proving to be the perfect pairing.

“Initially, he said, ‘You’re never going to work again. You’re never going to walk again.’ Within a month, I was walking,” said Higgins.

Noah is looking upward now, working on trees again. Thankful for a second chance.

The neurosurgery robot also has many uses: it can do brain surgeries in addition to spine procedures. It also completes this work in a fraction of the time compared to a traditional surgery.

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