Cromer GP saved by “cutting edge” surgery

A retired Cromer GP is doing vital political work in Africa after a 'cutting edge' operation saved him from a life confined to a wheelchair.

Dr Col Ding, 65, was close to death before the pioneering surgery but is now helping the South Sudan government build new hospitals and is fighting for peace in the troubled region.

His work has even seen him visit a US president and a prime minister.

The respected local doctor fell ill during a holiday to Zambia the year after closing his surgery on Canada Road in Cromer in 2005.

He suffered from diarrhoea and vomiting but his symptoms cleared on his return to Cromer for Christmas.

Unknown to him, a serious TB and salmonella infection had spread to his spinal column and destroyed three of his vertebrae.

In the new year he fell into a deep coma at home as the infection worsened and was rushed to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

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For four weeks he remained unconscious in intensive care.

'I was a gone person, I was dead really,' said Dr Ding.

'The bacteria were lurking and went into the bones and the spine and began to eat away.'

For two painful years he battled constant infections and at one point slipped into another coma, from which his family were convinced he would not recover.

Dr Ding, who lives on Hillside, said he was 'just a skeleton'.

'I couldn't walk, I had to struggle with getting up. People thought I wouldn't make it this time,' he said.

It was then that Dr Am Rai, a spinal surgeon at the hospital, carried out a 'cutting edge' procedure to kill the infection and rebuild his back.

In February he was taken into surgery for 12 hours to remove the dead bones from his spine through an incision in his stomach.

A small metal cage was installed in their place, filled with medical cement and slow-release antibiotics.

The radical part of the operation was the use of bone morphogenic protein (BMP), a unique powder which was employed to encourage new bone to grow and repair the spine.

'I had become physically okay – no infection – what I needed was a reconstruction so that at least I had some degree of physical normality,' said Dr Ding.

'It's been practised in America a lot, but here it's used in very, very rare cases.

'I feel well, it means I can do anything. I can do anything but I can't run or box,' he added.

The complex procedure is rarely used, but Dr Rai is pioneering it in the UK from his Norwich clinic.

'It's really cutting edge. It's a great thing that the NHS is here that we can provide this treatment,' he said.

'He's doing very well. He's a pretty strong man, because he went through a lot.'

Dr Ding is currently in South Sudan, where he is originally from, carrying out voluntary work.

Since his operation he has been able to go on six trips to the country, something he would never have achieved had it not been for his treatment.

'I went there to advise the government on health services after it came out of war. They want to establish hospitals,' he said.

'I enjoy doing the charity work.'

But as well as offering his expertise on medicine, he has also been a key figure in the peace process in the country, which is soon to vote in a referendum on splitting Sudan into two separate countries.

He visited George Bush, president of the United States, and Tony Blair when he was prime minister, to convince them to lend their support.

Dr Ding retired in 2005 and his practice was disbanded after 26 years.

'It was quite a popular practise. I was sad to see it go,' he said.

'Children are born in the practice and I would visit them at home, I would see them grow as kids, go to school and to universities.

'You know every member of their family. I knew them one by one.

'I was sad to see it go,' he added.