Man Seeks Help From Facebook for Risky Procedure

For two-and-a-half years, Kristofer Olofsson's body felt as if he were literally in flames.

To quote Olofsson: "On fire, 24 hours a day."

The 34-year old paraplegic from Sweden sat in his wheelchair at Craig Hospital in the Denver-area and discussed why he traveled so far for a risky procedure - and how he turned to Facebook for help.

The 14-hour plane ride was difficult, Olofsson said, but nothing compared to the fight with his own country to get this done.

"I'm really disappointed that my country has actually treated me this way; it's quite embarrassing to be honest," he said.

For the first nine years after a motorcycle accident claimed his ability to walk, Olofsson said life was still good. He was able to work, travel and enjoy a healthy social life.

But, one day in 2009 - out of nowhere - he landed in the intensive care unit. He was experiencing a strong sensation that the lower part of his body was on fire, a description that baffled hospital doctors.

"They didn't know what was wrong with me....they didn't know what to try," he said.

After failed attempts to relieve Olofsson's suffering with heavy medication, a Swedish physicians' specialist sought the opinion of Dr. Scott Falci, a spinal cord expert who works out of Craig Hospital, a world- renowned treatment and rehabilitation center for spinal and brain injuries.

"They sent me some MRI's, some films," Falci explained, "and I recognized that at his injury site, he had something called a 'tethered spinal cord.' That's basically where scar tissue forms around the injured spinal cord itself and that can cause problems over a patient's lifetime."

One of the problems the tethered cord was creating for Olofsson was neuropathic pain. Olofsson's body was sending false signals to his brain that he was on fire. Traditionally, the belief was that the lower half of the spinal cord could not be involved in creating pain, if it had been severed. But, research and Olofsson himself, show that pain signals are capable of routing around a break.

Falci was one of only two specialists in the world who performed the surgery that could un-tether his spinal cord. Time was of the essence because Olofsson's paralysis was spreading upward, toward his neck and arms.

The pain made him so desperate, he even tried having snail poison injected in his spine, something that was expensive and like all other attempts at relief, unsuccessful.

"Usually by the time they get to me, all medications have failed. The pain has been all consuming in their life, they are never without this pain, being on fire, and some ultimately succumb to suicide," Falci said.

But what happened in the 24 months or so after the diagnosis baffled not only Olofsson and those who love him, but many of the people of Sweden itself. The nine million citizens of the Scandinavian country are under a socialized health care system, in which through taxes, the government pays around 97 percent of medical costs.

The decisions on what procedures are to be paid, are made by a county elected official. So even after Falci offered to fly himself, his team and the necessary equipment to Sweden to perform the surgery, ultimately, it was not up to him. Through a tangle of red tape, the government said no. Olofsson's only choice was to pay the $325,000 himself to fly to the United States to get some relief.

Those who suffer from neuropathic pain, whether it be induced from diabetes or as an after effect of chemotherapy, know the torment. It may feel as if the foot, for example is being burned by flames, but to the eyes it is perfectly normal. Nothing looks different, despite the torture being felt by the patient. Not even a flush of color to prove to everyone else that something is clearly going on.

But Olofsson's friends did not need proof. They wanted to help. So, when socialized medicine failed him, social media came to the rescue.

"My friends, they started a Facebook people can contribute to help me get my life back, Olofsson said. After selling his motorcycle, mortgaging his house and cashing in his retirement, the Facebook page garnered the rest. "On the end, the Swedish people has contributed with $120,000."

In two operations, Falci searched out and destroyed 300-400 cell groupings that were sending the fire signals. It's something he's done on only two other people and said because of the damaging nature of the procedure, he will only perform the surgery on those without the ability to walk.

Olofsson returned to Sweden without any money, but said he has his life back. While here, he was aware of the current debate over America's health care system the questions about the legality of government involvement.

"I don't know so much about your system," he said. "But in the end, I think our system is good, but it's not bullet proof, otherwise I wouldn't be here."