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A pro golfer, 26, woke up paralyzed due to a rare blood clot. Doctors still don’t know why


26-year-old pro golfer Luis Vega was in New York on vacation with his girlfriend when he woke up with back pain. At the time he didn’t think much of it and went on with his day. He and his girlfriend spent the day together and went cycling around the city. He had more symptoms the next night and because he is a professional golfer, he knew had cause for concern. Doctors still aren’t sure of the cause, but he was diagnosed with a rare blood clot.

A Golfer’s Worst Fear
Vega woke up in the middle of the night again, this time with a headache and worse back pain. He took a shower hoping it would help. His girlfriend is a physical therapist, so she gave him some breathing and exercise tips and he went back to sleep. Things became increasingly worse when Vega woke up again unable to move his legs.

Standing and walking is a big part of his job as a professional golfer, so he was understandably pretty terrified when he was unable to get out of bed two hours later. He gave an interview on the Today Show and stated, “I tried to get up to have another shower, and when I tried to get up from the bed, I just literally fell off,” he continues, “My legs were not able to handle the weight of my body, and that was pretty scary.

Treatment for What Would be a Rare Blood Clot
Fortunately, Vega was staying in a hotel nearby Mount Sinai West, a hospital that happens to be known for its specialty care clinics. Dr. Wesley Bronson is a spine surgeon and assistant professor for the department of orthopedic surgery. Bronson performed an MRI and could immediately see something applying pressure to Vega’s spine. He wasn’t sure exactly what it was at first glance, but he knew it was either a tumor or a blood clot.

The medical term for this is a hematoma. He was unable to walk and experiencing pain because the rare blood clot had put pressure on his spinal cord. Dr. Bronson said, “It was obvious immediately that he just had a big blood clot, and it was very compressive.”

Spontaneous spinal epidural hematomas (SSEHs)
Spontaneous spinal epidural hematomas (SSEHs) are extraordinarily rare, it is estimated that there are only 0.1 cases every year to every 100,000th person. Vega’s rare blood clot can be life-threatening if left untreated and has a mortality rate of %15. Epidural hematoma is defined as an “accumulation of blood” in the potential space between the dura and bone[3]. Vega’s rare blood clot was diagnosed as, Spinal epidural hematoma.[3] It typically occurs after the body experiences some sort of physical trauma. The other causes are risk factors such as a condition called coagulopathy. Or taking certain medications or blood thinners.

Why It’s Such a Rare Blood Clot
The medical team performed every test they could think of to find the cause of Vega’s rare blood clot. Despite their best efforts, they found no obvious or underlying cause for the condition. “He had a remarkably rare diagnosis and had no risk factors at all for it to happen,” (his case is) the rarest of the rare.” Dr. Bronson performed an emergency laminectomy. According to Mayo Clinic, a laminectomy is surgery that creates space by removing bone spurs and tissues associated with arthritis of the spine.[2]

Everything went well in surgery although Dr. Bronson was unsure if Vega would make a full recovery. Immediately after surgery Vega still had some weakness in his legs but was able to stand by the next morning. Within a few days he was back to normal, and able to play golf again. “The next day I was able to move my legs and all my toes and stand up. And in one day, I went from not being able to walk to walking again.”

Fortunately for Vega, all of the elements came together for him to pull through and make a speedy recovery. Not only was he lucky to be near a hospital, but Vega also happened to be near a hospital that knew exactly how to treat him. His girlfriend acted quickly to get him there. Dr. Bronson was available to give him the emergency services he would need in order to survive. Other than the rare blood clot, he has no more symptoms or known predispositions and otherwise appears to be in good health.

Sources:

“Epidural Hematoma.” Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved October 26, 2022.
“Laminectomy.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic Staff. Retrieved October 26, 2022.
“Spontaneous spinal epidural hematoma: A case report.” NCBI. Ooi Chin Sheng, et al. September 25, 2021.
“A pro golfer, 26, woke up paralyzed due to a rare blood clot. Doctors still don’t know why” Today. October 19, 2022.
“Coagulopathy: Signs, causes, treatment, and more explained.” Health Grades. Health Grades Editorial. July 11, 2022.

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