A young Israeli, paralysed from the chest down after a suicide bombing, has defied medical odds by regaining feeling in his toes following pioneering treatment at a London clinic.
Zion Shitrit, 23, was working at a market in the northern Israeli town of Hadera when a suicide bomber blasted the area, killing six.
Zion suffered horrific injuries, including a head trauma and severe spinal damage. He spent 60 days unconscious in intensive care at the Beilinson Hospital in Petach Tikva, followed by a one-year rehabilitation programme in Ra’anana. Doctors diagnosed paralysis and said there was nothing more they could do. He was told that he would never walk again.
Last month, Zion’s parents, Tova and Pini, saw a reality television programme in Israel, Miracle Steps, about the Mind Clinic in London, a holistic rehabilitation centre which works with people suffering from spinal cord injuries. This week they flew to London with their son, who began treatment.
And on Monday, Zion, who uses a wheelchair, amazed his parents by standing up for the first time, moving his feet and telling them feeling had returned to his toes.
His mind therapist Hratch Ogali, the clinic’s founder, claimed he should be walking independently in two years.
“My dream is to walk and I am determined to get there,” Zion said. He said he had never accepted or believed that he would not be able to walk again.
“I hate being in a wheelchair. I love standing up. I don’t want to sit down.”
He has been undergoing daily two-hour sessions at the clinic, which cost £125 an hour. The UK charity One Family has helped to pay for the trip. The Shitrits return to Israel on Sunday but hope to come back for more sessions if they can get further funding.
“It is very special for us to see Zion stand,” said Mrs Shitrit. “If he can continue this treatment, we have hope.”
The clinic’s philosophy is to put the patient back in control of his mental and physical health.
Mr Ogali said: “Although Zion had no feeling, there was nerve activity there, and this suggests that connectivity can be made. It is a process of getting the nerves and the body to work together, in addition to a mental adjustment, clearing away the mental trauma.
“Being told you will never walk again is the most paralysing thing in this whole process.”
The clinic uses physiotherapy equipment and, earlier this week, Zion cycled one-and-a-half kilometres on a recumbent bicycle.
He was on his third day of work at the Hadera market when the suicide bomb went off in 2005.
He had recently finished his three-year stint as a communications officer in the army, where he was based in the Gaza Strip. The family moved to a ground floor flat to accommodate him. He now lives with a carer in Hadera, but admits he finds things hard. “I used to go out to bars a lot, but it is hard now. Everywhere I go, I have to make sure there is someone with me to help. I have lost my independence.”
Mr Ogali does not claim a cure for all illnesses and acknowledges that his patient still has a long way to go, but in the meantime, the determined and smiling young Israeli is hanging on to his dream of one day being able to drive an Aston Martin — his favourite car.