Health & Lifestyle

Adelaide man Carlo Onorato left paralysed from chest down from sudden disease

A young barber was the picture of health when he went to sleep one night five years ago, only to wake up paralysed from the chest down and on the brink of death. 

Carlo Onorato, a keen soccer player from Adelaide, was just 20 years old when he was suddenly struck down with transverse myelitis – a rare disease that causes severe inflammation in the spinal cord.

The disease has no known cure, hits spontaneously and can cause permanent disability, and changed the course of Mr Onorato’s life forever in November 2018. 

Adelaide barber Carlo Onorato (above) suffered a sudden onset of transverse myelitis, leaving him paralysed overnight five years ago

Adelaide barber Carlo Onorato (above) suffered a sudden onset of transverse myelitis, leaving him paralysed overnight five years ago

Prior to his hospitalisation, Mr Onorato (above) was a talented barber and passionate soccer player

Prior to his hospitalisation, Mr Onorato (above) was a talented barber and passionate soccer player

Now, at 25 years old and a C6 quadriplegic, Mr Onorato has opened up about the everyday struggles he faces, while hoping he can one day enjoy some of the things he once did. 

He said on the night he became ill he’d woken up needing to go to the toilet but couldn’t move his legs.

‘I was in pain and didn’t know what was happening – it was just bang, I woke up and I was paralysed,’ he told The Advertiser.

He was immediately rushed to hospital in the middle of the night and put in an induced coma.

The beginning of his transverse myelitis triggered a series of serious complications that required emergency surgery.

His chances of survival looked so bleak, his family were told to say their goodbyes. 

‘I can’t imagine how hard it would have been for my mum and [two older] brothers to watch their son and younger brother go through this, especially because it was out of nowhere,’ he said. 

Fortunately, after a month in intensive care, Mr Onorato’s condition improved and he was moved to the general ward where he spent several more months undergoing treatment.

He then went on to spend nine months in a rehabilitation program and underwent several surgeries.

Mr Onorato said the reality of being a quadriplegic didn’t hit him until after he’d left the hospital.

‘I didn’t really understand this is my life now, I am a quadriplegic. I still had in my mind I would be walking in a couple of weeks or months,’ he said.

Transverse myelitis interrupts the messages the spinal cord nerves send throughout the body, which in Mr Onorato’s case has left him paralysed from the chest down.

The rare neurological disorder can arise following viral and bacterial infections but sometimes there is no known cause. 

Mr Onorato (above) said he was often in denial about being a quadriplegic while receiving treatment in hospital

Mr Onorato (above) said he was often in denial about being a quadriplegic while receiving treatment in hospital

Now, Mr Onorato is trying to get parts of his life back despite living in constant pain and being unable to resume work.

Some transverse myelitis patients are able to regain partial or full use of their limbs.

Mr Onorato said he’s recently regained his driver’s licence and is moving into a new apartment. 

He still holds out hope one day he’ll be able to walk and move like he did when he was 20.  

Transverse myelitis is believed to affect between 20 and 50 Australians every year.

The South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute’s Ryan O’Hare Doig is conducting three trials that aim to better predict the long-term effects of spinal cord injuries.

He said he regards Mr Onorato as an ‘inspiration’ for raising awareness on how spinal injuries can suddenly occur. 

For Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Week, which starts on Monday, the SAHMRI are seeking donations to help fund spinal cord research.

Visit sahmri.au/NSCDonate or email [email protected] to donate.

Mr Onorato (pictured playing soccer before his hospitalisation) said his dream is to 'pick up my niece and nephew and play with them in the backyard'

Mr Onorato (pictured playing soccer before his hospitalisation) said his dream is to ‘pick up my niece and nephew and play with them in the backyard’

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