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Friday, April 5, 2024

WMCHealth Surgeons Save Patient from Permanent Damage After Bike Accident

Posted By: Advancing Care

A few days after Christmas 2022, Chuck Zangara was outside doing what he loved: mountain biking in Graham Hills Park.

"It was a really warm day, and I went out by myself around dusk. I was riding a trail I frequently rode when something happened to my bike, and I started to crash," said Zangara.

Zangara flew over his handlebars headfirst into a tree. He heard something crack as he hit the ground.

Chuck Zangara

"My body started seizing up a bit, and I knew I needed to get help right away,” said Zangara. “But I was far enough up the mountain that it took maybe an hour for the paramedics to finally get to me. I was lying on the ground in the woods, praying I wasn’t paralyzed, in the complete dark.”

When the paramedics arrived, they immobilized his neck, got him down the mountain and rushed him to the emergency room where he saw Merritt Kinon, MD, Westchester Medical Center’s section chief of spinal neurosurgery.

"Chuck looked fine neurologically and was able to move his legs and arms, but he was complaining about severe neck pain,” said Dr. Kinon. “We did a CAT scan and were horrified with what we found."

Part of Zangara’s spine was fractured and displaced, and his spinal canal was completely compromised. "Basically, his spine was in his chest,” said Dr. Kinon. “I’ve seen a case like this before where the patient was paralyzed. I couldn’t believe Chuck was moving or walking.”

Dr. Kinon knew Zangara needed surgery immediately but notified him of the risks.

"Dr. Kinon told me there was a good chance I could come out of the surgery paralyzed or worse, but I couldn’t live like that either," said Zangara.

The neurosurgery team prepared Zangara for surgery as they came up with a plan. "We needed to realign the spine, remove and replace the displaced spinal bone with a titanium cage and perform a surgical fusion to put everything back together and hold it in place," said Dr. Kinon.

Dr. Kinon and his team successfully fixed Zangara’s spine and more importantly preserved his neurologic function.

"The repair was one of the most significant to date in my career,” Dr. Kinon noted.

Zangara recovered in WMCHealth’s spinal cord rehabilitation unit until he was transferred out of the network for long-term rehabilitation. Zangara shared, "Recovery in WMCHealth’s spinal cord unit was fantastic; the staff and nurses took great care of me. I couldn’t have had a better experience.”

"It was a team effort between our trauma team, EMS, neurosurgery, rehabilitation medicine, physical therapy and nursing," Dr. Kinon emphasized. "If Chuck hadn’t been handled by a team with our level of expertise and teamwork to develop a collaborative care plan, his transport, surgery and recovery might not have been so successful."

A year later, after months of rehab, Zangara is back on his mountain bike.

"Initially, I said I was never going to mountain bike again, but I couldn’t give it up, even after risking my life. It’s part of who I am," said Zangara. "I’m just being extra careful this time around!"

WMCHealth’s Spine Care Program is a multidisciplinary program dedicated to providing advanced comprehensive care for a wide variety of spinal conditions and disorders. Our team is comprised of experts from the departments of Neurosurgery, Orthopaedic Surgery, Pain Medicine, Rehabilitation Medicine, Anesthesia, Oncology and Neuroradiology. For office appointments please call, 914.493.2363.

Chuck Zangara back to doing what he loves