Personal trainer left paralysed in one leg after being mutilated by a boat propeller regains movement after world-first procedure to regrow a three-inch gap in her nerve
- Danielle Crease, of Miami, almost died in the gruesome accident six years ago
- The boat’s propeller tore the 31-year-old’s Achilles and severed her sciatic nerve
- Doctors warned her she may never regain sensation – and she still is unable to
- However, she can move her left leg after having an experimental procedure
A personal trainer whose leg was mutilated by a boat propeller has regained some movement because of pioneering treatment.
Danielle Crease, from Miami, almost died when she jumped into the water and was hit by another boat in the horrific accident six years ago.
The boat’s propeller tore the 31-year-old’s Achilles and severed her sciatic nerve, leaving her paralysed from the knee down in her left leg.
Doctors warned her she may never regain sensation. However, they offered her a life-changing nerve graft, thought to be the first of its kind.
In the experimental procedure, which had to be cleared by Government officials before it was attempted, surgeons grew the severed nerve before implanting it.
And despite still not having any sensation in her left leg, Mrs Crease is now able to move the limb.
Danielle Crease, from Miami, almost died when she jumped into the water and was hit by another boat in the horrific accident six years ago (pictured working out)
‘It took two years before anything happened. The doctors were always encouraging me to try to move my foot and toes.
‘They explained that I needed to train my mind to not forget how to perform these movements, even if they led to nothing.
‘I was laying by the pool in Miami one day and I gave it a try. To my absolute shock and disbelief, it moved slightly. I worked on it all the time after that.’
Mrs Crease, who is married to Jeff, remembers little of the horror accident, which took place on a ‘beautiful day’ in September 2013.
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She was with friends for a weekend trip before planning to fly to Taiwan to become a teacher. But as she climbed into the water, she was hit by another boat.
However, she does recall being tossed around like ‘being in a washing machine’ in the ‘ocean of blood’, which pooled around her.
When Mrs Crease was pulled out of the water, she immediately noticed that she couldn’t feel her leg. She was rushed to hospital.
Mrs Crease said: ‘Apparently the doctors informed my father, who got to the hospital first, that there was little chance I would make it.
The boat’s propeller tore the 31-year-old’s Achilles and severed her sciatic nerve, leaving her paralysed from the knee down in her left leg (pictured in hospital)
Doctors warned her she may never regain sensation. However, they offered her a life-changing nerve graft, thought to be the first of its kind (pictured, the scars from her accident)
‘And things didn’t look good. They essentially told him to say goodbye to me. I woke up (a couple of days later) intubated, with straps around my arms.
‘Apparently, I was fighting the intubation, so I had to be restrained. The first thing I remember from waking up was seeing my parents.’
The wounds on her leg were so severe that she required a wound vacuum – often used for shrapnel wounds – as the gashes were too deep to heal naturally.
When she had been brought into hospital, doctors collected some of Mrs Crease’s sciatic nerve, pre-empting the potential for the surgery.
She said: ‘Those first two weeks were the worst weeks of my life, apart from the surgeon asking me to take part in the new nerve surgery.
‘That was the only hope I had to hold on to.
Mrs Crease battled depression during her recovery in hospital. She said: ‘It wasn’t a bad dream, it was real and I couldn’t escape it.
Mrs Crease, who is married to Jeff, remembers little of the horror accident, which took place on a ‘beautiful day’ in September 2013 (pictured after her accident)
When she had been brought into hospital, doctors collected some of Mrs Crease’s sciatic nerve, pre-empting the potential for the surgery (pictured in Thailand before her accident)
WHAT WAS THE SURGERY?
Mrs Crease was told that she may never regain any feeling or movement in her leg as a result of her severed sciatic nerve.
But a team of surgeons at the Miller School of Medicine/Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami had other ideas.
The world first procedure to regrow three inches of her sciatic nerve – the largest nerve in the human body – was performed in October 2014.
The surgeons decided against traditional donor nerve grafting – and opted for a pioneering procedure involving specialist Schwann cells from her own body instead.
They hoped the cells would regenerate and fill in the gap over time. Cells from donor nerves often rapidly deplete, they warned at the time.
Professor Allan Levi, who led the operation, had to seek approval from US regulators the FDA to go ahead with the pioneering procedure.
‘There was a lot of fear for those first few months. I was in a boot, and restricted to a wheelchair, so I didn’t leave the house much.
‘A month after the accident, I had a hamstring repair, Achilles repair, quad repair, general leg repair, and the amazing nerve surgery.’
Surgeons grew the nerve in a lab while waiting for approval from officials to try the procedure, which was never guaranteed to work.
And once approval for the surgery had been granted, the surgeon took sural nerves from both legs to graft with the sciatic nerve tissue.
Doctors remained optimistic that if Mrs Crease kept trying to flex her muscles, movement or sensation would one day return.
Mrs Crease first regained some movement in her foot in 2015. Feeling encouraged, she worked tirelessly in the gym to gain more.
She said: ‘There was no way I should have ever had any movement again below the knee, and I do, regardless how small it is.
Mrs Crease first regained some movement in her foot in 2015. Feeling encouraged, she worked tirelessly in the gym to gain more (pictured climbing a tree after her accident)
Mrs Crease loves working out and being active. Pictured indoor rock climbing after her ordeal
Mrs Crease is pictured at a press conference discussing the historic nerve graft surgery shortly after undergoing it
‘I always knew it was never going to be a complete recovery, but it was going to be a stepping stone for the future.’
Mrs Crease now has to wear an ankle-foot brace in case something falls on her foot – because she wouldn’t be able to feel it.
Mrs Crease now says the accident was both the best and worst thing to ever happen to her.
She added: ‘To be honest, I’m not always mad at the accident anymore. I have met some amazing people because of what happened.
‘I learned a lot about myself, but I also learned a lot about my family. This didn’t just happen to me, it happened to us.
‘Success isn’t in how much movement came back, but that movement came back at all. No matter how small it was.
‘Life will inevitably knock us all down, in one capacity or another.. But we all have the tools to overcome, because those tools are all within.’
You can see more of Mrs Crease’s recovery by visiting @daniellemcrease
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