China's 'folding girl' can finally walk upright thanks to surgery

‘Folding girl’, 23, can finally walk upright thanks to life-changing surgery after a severe hunchback left her chest pressed against her thighs for more than a decade

  • The Chinese woman could only see the floor while walking for over 10 years
  • She suffered from a rare type of arthritis and went for medical advice in April
  • Medics performed four operations in three months to help her stand upright
  • She is now recovering at home and can stroll while using a walking frame 

A young Chinese woman dubbed the ‘folding girl’ can finally walk upright after undergoing four operations in three months to fix her hunched back.

The 23-year-old, known by a pseudonym Xiao Yu, had to walk with her chest pressed against her thighs for more than 10 years due to a rare condition, according to local media.

An excited Xiao Yu told reporters ‘I can finally see the sky’ after she was able to move around with a straight body thanks to the life-changing surgery.


The Chinese woman, Xiao Yu, had suffered from ankylosing spondylitis (AS), a rare type of arthritis, for over a decade (left). She can now stroll with the help of a walking frame (right)

Xiao Yu lives in the province of Jiangsu in eastern China. She had suffered from ankylosing spondylitis (AS), a rare type of arthritis, for over a decade, according to Litchi News. 

The condition causes inflammation in the spine, making the back, rib cage and neck stiff and painful.

Footage released by the local outlet shows the woman living with a severely deformed spine before the medical procedures.

In the clips, she had to walk with her head looking down and torso pressed against her upper legs.

The patient, who comes from the city of Suqian, went to the provincial capital Nanjing for medical treatment earlier this year.

Doctors from the Gulou Hospital performed four operations between April and July to allow the woman to stand straight and walk properly once more.


Before the medical procedures, Xiao Yu had to stand and walk with her chest pressed against her thighs (left). Medics performed four operations in three months to help her stand upright

Speaking to a journalist from Litchi News, Xiao Yu couldn’t hide her excitement about her new self.

She said: ‘I am taller. In the past, I had to walk with my head lowered and could only see the floor.’

She added she was looking forward to making a full recovery so that she could find a job and look after her parents.

Xiao Yu can now stroll with the help of a walking frame. She told the local Suqian TV that she was undergoing rehabilitation training at home.

‘I walk more than 10 minutes in the morning, take a break and then walk another round,’ she noted.

Her father, Wang Anlong, expects her daughter to recover fully in two to three years.

The man is currently looking after her daughter full time but plans to find a job once Xiao Yu can take care of herself.


China’s ‘folding man’ Li Hua (left, pictured at the age of 18) was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis when he was 19. His had lived with his face pressed tightly against his thighs – with just a 0.7 inches gap in between – due to his severe illness (right, pictured before the surgery)


Mr Li had been unable to stand upright, eat or walk properly for more than 25 years before the life-changing surgery (left). Surgeons in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen performed the series of surgical procedures from June to December last year to ‘open up’ his body (right)

Xiao Yu’s story comes after a 46-year-old Chinese farmer billed as the ‘folding man’ was able to walk with a straight back after more than two decades.

The man, named Li Hua, was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis at the age of 19. 

He had to live with his face tightly squeezed against his thighs, but his impoverished family from rural China could not afford to treat him.

He was unable to stand upright, eat or walk properly for more than 25 years before surgeons in Guangdong carried out four consecutive, high-risk operations on him last year.

WHAT CONDITION DOES THE ‘FOLDING GIRL’ HAVE? 

Xiao Yu suffered from ankylosing spondylitis (AS). The condition causes inflammation in the spine, making the back, rib cage and neck stiff and painful.

The inflammation causes bones to wear away, and in response, the body produces extra calcium to grow more bone, sometimes in the wrong places.

This process leads to further bone formation, and the individual bones of the spine may fuse. In severe cases, this can make the spine curve forward more.

This type of spinal curvature, which looks like a forward-hunching posture, is called kyphosis.

Kyphosis is diagnosed when the spine is curved more than 45 degrees. It can be caused by poor posture, abnormal development in the womb, age and an injury.

People with AS may also have inflammation in other parts of their body, including the eyes – leading to a condition called uveitis.

Inflammation can additionally occur in the heel area as well as the knees, elbows, shoulders, and ribs.

AS is the most known member of a more broadly defined disease called axial spondyloarthritis (axSpA).

AsSpA is a chronic, inflammatory rheumatic disease that affects the axial skeleton, causing severe pain, stiffness and fatigue.

Symptoms typically start in early adulthood and get progressively worse.

AS affects around 1.6million people in the US. AxSpA affects one in 200 adults in the UK.

Versus Arthritis, a charity in the UK, said historically, ankylosing spondylitis frequently led to permanent spinal deformity which needed surgery.

Professor Paul Emery, the spokesperson for Versus Arthritis, said: ‘With earlier diagnosis and effective therapy, surgery is rarely required now.

‘In the unusual cases where surgery is necessary, it can dramatically improve people’s lives.

‘Physiotherapy is essential to maintain the range of movement, to ensure the back and neck do not stiffen into a fixed bent position.

‘Effective inflammation suppressing therapies, treat the pain and stiffness permitting physiotherapy to continue, even during flares.’   

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