Mr Mo Belal
A surgeon sees both sides of the operating table after being paralysed and turns an unfortunate accident into an opportunity to become a better doctor, empathising with patients.
Mohammed Belal, a neuro-urology surgeon, suffered an accident which led to paralysis in his lower body. In February 2021, he was biking in the West Midlands when he was hit by a fallen tree. “There was no time to react. The next thing I knew, I woke up and tried to get up and realised I was paralysed,” he recalls. His injuries included a broken back, shoulder blade and ribs.
A hopeful patient’s point of view
Mr Belal initially underwent a 14-hour operation which was later followed by multiple more spinal operations, eight months in various hospitals and over 1,000 hours of rehabilitation. As this happened during the Covid-19 pandemic, his wife was only allowed to visit him once a week. This led Mr Belal to reflect on life as a patient and how his three children would react to seeing him in a wheelchair. It took over a year after the accident before he was able to go home and be with his family.
“What I’ve learnt as a patient is hope is very important,” he says. “I recognise from the other side that I accept what has happened to me, but having hope, I will work to get better. It allows me to push and push in rehab — to do the next thing that’s needed.”
I spent a lot of time looking after people with spinal cord injuries, so I know both sides now.
Return to work after intensive rehabilitation
Most might think that paralysis would lead to the end of one’s career as a surgeon. However, in November 2022, Mr Belal returned to work at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham as the first paralysed medic in the UK to perform an operation. This also makes him one of the few surgeons in the world who was able to return to work after becoming paralysed.
So Mr Belal could operate on patients once again, he was given a special electric wheelchair with a hydraulic seat by the University of Birmingham Hospitals NHS trust. It is designed to be able to raise and support him in a standing position, with knee support allowing him to lean over patients during procedures.
“I feel incredibly lucky. Not many people come back from a catastrophic, life-changing event to a job like this,” says Mr Belal, whose return to work started with fitting an artificial urinary sphincter — an operation that takes around two to three hours.
A chance to give back to patients
As a neuro-urology surgeon, he works in a multidisciplinary field treating bladder, bowel and sexual dysfunction in individuals with neurological disorders. For Mr Belal, this involved treating patients with spinal cord injuries similar to his.
“I spent a lot of time looking after people with spinal cord injuries, so I know both sides now,” he says. “I feel positive as I’ve been overwhelmed by the support I’ve had, and while it’s about accepting, I am privileged — and it’s about not giving up.”
Instead of retiring, he wanted to take advantage of his second chance at life to help other people. “I want to bring some positivity back to the NHS if I can. We’ve been through a difficult time,” he adds. “I still have my hands, my brain, my family, friends and colleagues — what’s not to be grateful for?”