In the bustling city of Beijing, a 19-year-old university student named Jiang Yanchen has embarked on a courageous journey to regain the ability to stand up straight. Affectionately dubbed the “folded boy” due to his battle with an autoimmune disease known as Ankylosing Spondylitis, Jiang’s tenacity in the face of adversity is an inspiring testament to the human spirit.
The Battle with Ankylosing Spondylitis
Ankylosing Spondylitis is a form of arthritis that triggers inflammation in the joints and ligaments of the spine, leading to the fusion of bones over time. For Jiang, this resulted in a hunched posture, forcing him into a horizontal position.
Media reports reveal that the last time he stood upright was a decade ago, and as the disease progressed, his neck bent backward until his head touched his back.
Living with limitations
Jiang’s journey began with a rare and debilitating condition that twisted his upper body into a Z-shape, leaving his head and buttocks inches apart. Standing at just 1 meter tall, he relies on a wheelchair for mobility. Since primary school, he has had to kneel on a chair to read and write.
However, his indomitable spirit and determination saw him taking his high school entrance exam while lying on a yoga mat. This extraordinary feat led to his admission to Dezhou University, showcasing his tenacity to pursue education despite physical challenges.
Despite the physical pain and daily challenges, he remains determined to make the most of his life. In a video interview with People’s Daily, he expressed the difficulties he faces, stating that, at first, his knees hurt a bit, but they got numb after all the years that have passed.
A journey to transformation
Jiang’s story took a turn for the better when, in May 2023, he was introduced to Dr. Wang Yu, the Chief Physician at the Department of Orthopedics at Peking University Hospital. After careful consideration and collaboration with experts from various fields, a complex and high-risk surgical plan was devised.
In this same month, Jiang left his hometown in Shandong province to undergo his first surgery. His mother, offering words of encouragement, told him that he wouldn’t need wheelchairs anymore after the surgery. The first procedure successfully restored his neck to its normal position, offering a glimmer of hope in his pursuit of an upright posture.
The second surgery, on August 15, presented its own challenges, including the potential for heart failure, but it marked an important milestone in Jiang’s recovery. From a 180-degree backward fold, Jiang’s condition improved to a 90-degree position after the surgeries. This transformation allowed him to sit and interact with others, signifying a substantial improvement in his overall quality of life.
A beacon of hope
While Jiang’s discharge from the hospital marks a significant achievement, there are more chapters to unfold in his incredible journey. Future operations are planned to correct the remaining 90-degree fold, ensuring that he can stand tall once again.
Celebrating his 19th birthday within the hospital walls, Jiang expressed optimism and a readiness to embrace life’s challenges. With a touch of humor, he remarked on finally being able to see people within his line of sight. His mother, reflecting on the momentous occasion, acknowledged the new beginning it represented for her son.
However, Jiang is not the first individual in China to capture the public’s attention by documenting his journey to standing up straight. Li Hua, a 49-year-old from Hunan province, successfully underwent four operations in Shenzhen between June and December 2019, standing up straight for the first time in nearly 30 years in 2020. Mr. Li’s success serves as a source of hope for Jiang, with people expressing their support and admiration for his strength of character.