By Alyce Collins
AFTER landing on her head in a scary fall this AERIALIST was left with a damaged spine that saw half of her body paralysed and the other half unable to feel PAIN – but after being operated on WHILE AWAKE she hopes to one day be back in the air.
Team coach and aerialist, Nina Jussila (29) who is originally from Finland but moved to Norwich, UK, in 2014, has spent years practicing her aerial skills and swinging from the air.
On March 7, 2019, while practicing a new drop from the silks, Nina fell 13ft and landed headfirst on the mat, with the weight of her body falling onto her head subsequently. Nina immediately screamed out that she couldn’t feel her body and was taken to hospital.
Scans revealed that the disc between the fourth and fifth vertebra was gone and the fifth vertebra was dislocated, putting pressure on Nina’s spinal cord which could have caused complete paralysis.
Surgeons operated to realign the fifth vertebra to release the pressure, which had to be done while Nina was still awake to ensure no damage to her spinal cord. Following that, surgeons then took a piece of bone from Nina’s hip to put in between the vertebras and fuse the spine. A metal disc was then inserted to support the fragile spine.
Nina had to spend five weeks on bed rest to recover from the accident, but it became clear that Nina could only feel pain on her left side yet had movement on the right side. Nina was diagnosed with Brown Sequard Syndrome, meaning that her right side works but she has lost the feeling of sensations like hot, cold or pain. Nina’s left side was paralysed but she can feel more on that side.
Through physiotherapy, Nina walked by herself for the first time on May 10, and she is now focusing training her left arm, which is significantly weakened. Nina celebrates each success, because it helps her appreciate how far she has come in her recovery, while remaining optimistic that she will return to aerial skills sometime in the future.
“On March 7, 2019, I fell 13ft when trying to learn a new trick on aerial silks,” said Nina.
“I was trying to learn a new skill and my head hit the mat first, then the rest of my body fell on top of it.
“It all happened so fast, I just realised I had made a mistake then the next thing I know, I landed on my neck.
“I screamed out that I couldn’t feel my body, and luckily I had friends around me to call an ambulance and keep me calm. At the hospital, they went over my body to see if I could feel anything and I could still feel some things on my left side, but unfortunately there was no movement on my left side. I still had hope that I hadn’t lost my body fully as I could slightly move my right leg and arm.
“Scans revealed the real situation as my fourth and fifth vertebra were damaged badly, the disk between them was fully gone and the fifth vertebra was dislocated which put dangerous pressure on my spinal cord. If there was any more pressure, I could have been completely paralysed.
“They operated on the same day, which took seven hours. First, they needed to get my fifth vertebra into the right place to release the pressure, which they had to do when I was awake to make sure my spinal cord would not be damaged.
“After that was done, they took a piece of bone from my hip and put it between the vertebras to fuse my spine and then they added a metal disc to support it all. The doctors were amazing, and they did a brilliant job with my spine.
“On March 21, the fingers on my left hand started moving again. For the first five weeks, I just needed to rest by lying on my back and not moving my spine at all. After that, I could start sitting and eventually try to stand and walk too.
“My body started to recover right away, only a tiny bit, but those improvements kept me going. I celebrated all the little improvements to encourage myself to continue pushing forward.
“When people are paralysed, it affects their physical abilities but also affects the internal organs as well. I needed to learn how to breathe and cough properly and how to use my bladder again.
“I realised that I would go crazy without any stimulus for my brain, so I started listening to audiobooks. I read different survival stories, which helped me to reflect on my own feelings. They also encouraged me, because if those people managed to overcome their challenges, I could overcome mine.”
While recovering from surgery, Nina was diagnosed with Brown Sequard Syndrome, paralysis of half the spinal cord, because the accident caused significant damage to her left side. The left side is still Nina’s weaker side, but she is very thankful that she has regained movement of her left leg.
“I have Brown Sequard Syndrome, so my right side works almost normally but there’s no sensation on that side, like hot, cold or pain. Whereas my left side was paralysed but my skin can feel a lot more on that side,” said Nina.
“Luckily my body started to recover little by little right after the accident and after the successful operation and every day it works a little bit better. My left shoulder still barely moves, but I am very motivated to train to make it move.
“When I started noticing some movement, after weeks of none at all, it felt amazing. I was so happy, I even cried because I realised that if it moved even a little bit, I could potentially recover more and get the muscles working like before.
“My left side is still much weaker, but I’m grateful that my left leg has started working so well, whereas my left arm still needs work. On my right, I still can’t feel senses, maybe I’ll get it back one day but possibly not.
“Pain on the right side feels like a tickle, so I need to be careful that I don’t hurt myself by accident. For example, when I stretch my muscles, I can’t feel it so there’s a danger that I could stretch too much and damage my muscles.
“I am training with the physiotherapists and we’re practising walking, going up and down the stairs and training my arm in different ways. At the moment, I couldn’t do aerial silks, but I hope that the day will come when I can do it again as I love being up in the air. I do believe that day will come.
“I’m so grateful to have some feeling and control back as many people won’t ever be able to regain that, which is why I have huge respect for them after going through this myself.
“It’s important to celebrate every little success, don’t think that if they’re small then they shouldn’t be appreciated. Find your motivation for why you want to continue. For me, and many others, it’s family and dreams that haven’t yet happened.”
To see more, visit www.instagram.com/ninajussila