Man paralyzed while training as MMA fighter makes miraculous recovery

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By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas
By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas
By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas
By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas

CHANDLER, Ariz. -- Ryan Christiansen casually walks, he talks, the only sign something is wrong is a 2-inch scar across the front of his neck. It's extraordinary that Christiansen is even walking. On May 27, he was injured in a freak accident while training at his top MMA gym in Chandler.
He said it was just a double-leg takedown, but instead of landing on his arm he landed on the back of his head.

Christiansen, who had just made the elite Power MMA team, said, "My leg went numb, my hands went numb. I went down, and I was like, there's something wrong with me, so I tapped, and I needed to just sit there, I couldn't move my leg." Soon he was completely paralyzed.

When asked what it was like to hear that doctors believed he would not stand again he said, "The world flashes through your eyes ... you really check yourself and you really have to find inside of you what the world means to you."

And that is when the Iraq War veteran and elite athlete decided that he was going to fight outside the cage.

When asked how he is walking now, he says, "Angels, I guess."

Enter Dr. Steve Chang with the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix. When Christiansen was life-flighted to Barrow, Chang got there at midnight to perform a rare surgery.

"I couldn't guarantee that he was going to walk again," Chang said. "He ruptured a disk that was literally indenting his spinal cord."

In a surgery similar to Peyton Manning's, Chang had to remove the disk and repair the spinal cord.

"After we decompressed his spinal cord and we fixed the covering, we had to reconstruct his spine literally with a series of plates and screws and bone graphs," Chang explained.

Within three days of the surgery, Christiansen was up walking in the hospital. And now he is doing physical therapy where he is running in a pool.

When asked if this is one of the most amazing recoveries he has ever seen, Chang said, "The fact that he came to us paralyzed and walked out of the hospital within a week, there is no question that Ryan came to Barrow's with angels who brought him in that evening because he's made a miraculous recovery."

Chang said Christiansen may not have to tap out of the sport that's his dream.

"Every day I wake up thinking, all right, I did that yesterday, I did that today, now what am I going to do tomorrow? I feel like I'm going to conquer whatever it is," Christiansen said.

And when asked if he wants to go back to MMA, he said, "If I can. I want to prove to everybody that you can overcome anything."