Leah McCourt details tragic Ryan Curtis injury and surgery

Leah McCourt wants the world to know how hard Ryan Curtis is fighting.

Two weeks ago, Curtis suffered a devastating injury from an accident in training that has left him in the hospital with a damaged spine and neck. Curtis’ close friend and teammate McCourt has rallied the MMA community in support of Curtis, a one-time Bellator fighter.

McCourt appeared on The MMA Hour on Wednesday to provide an update on Curtis’ condition and to explain what happened in that fateful training session.

“Two weeks ago in wrestling practice, Ryan suffered a traumatic incident,” McCourt said. “From what Ryan’s told me, I believe he was in a body lock position and he had his arm trapped, and his partner hipped in and kind of dumped him on his head. So the arm was trapped, so he couldn’t post, and it was quite a force that it has.

“It basically smashed his vertebrae completely. … The surgeon said the trauma that happened to his spine and his spinal cord and his vertebrae is something you would see from a severe car crash or falling from the likes of a balcony.”

The severity of the injury was unknown to Curtis’ friends and family until they visited him at the hospital. Only then did it become clear how badly Curtis had been hurt.

“Ryan is the life and soul of any room,” McCourt said. “Anybody that knows him or anywhere he goes, he’s just that guy in the gym that everybody loves, everybody wants to be around. He has just got such an infectious energy.

“We walked into this dark, dark room in the hospital and he was still in the stretcher that he’d been in the night before. There was a backlog of patients in [accident and emergency] and we were like, ‘What’s going on?’ We thought Ryan would be joking like, ‘Oh, I’ve hurt my neck.’ From there, he was paralyzed from the neck down. One of the spinal surgeons came from A&E … he had done the X-rays and MRIs and went into the magnitude of the injury.”

McCourt was careful to lay out the extent of Curtis’ injuries and subsequent surgeries: Two dislocated vertebrae in his spine, C4 and C5, and C5 and C6. Ruptured discs between the vertebrae that then pressed down on Curtis’ spinal cord, which was also dislocated. The situation required the surgeon to remove the discs from Curtis’ spine and replace them with titanium cages. Titanium plates and screws were then placed across the vertebrae to stabilize them.

According to McCourt, the surgeon described it as “the most severe and the most dangerous” procedure he could perform. And it wasn’t over for Curtis.

In a second surgery, two screws were inserted into the dislocated vertebrae and then two rods were attached to those screws. The duration of Curtis’ stay in the hospital is expected to last one month, with five months of physical rehabilitation ahead, and that is just with the hope to stand again. Curtis may require a wheelchair to travel in the future.

Suffice to say, the experience has been heartbreaking for Curtis’ family and friends.

“He has a two-year-old daughter, she’s living at my house at the minute with my mom,” McCourt said. “My Isabel is looking after her and my mom is looking after [Curtis’ partner] Emma while I’ve had to come back into camp and it’s just — how insane that your life can change in a split second and the magnitude of what Ryan’s life was going to be. It’s definitely hard for us all to understand, and we can’t thank the spinal team and the stages in the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast for what they did, because so much could have went wrong during that surgery.

“Ryan is still Ryan, it’s still him, it’s his personality, and [if the injury was] any higher up or any mistakes they could have made, then we could have lost him and his personality, who he was. I think the amount of support from the Irish MMA community and from so many different people, so many different seminars, so many donations to Ryan is a testament to who he is and how many people’s lives he’s touched.”

Curtis has competed 10 times as a professional MMA fighter dating back to 2015. He’s compiled a 6-4 record, including a first-round TKO of Luis Gonzalez at Bellator 217 in his lone appearance for the promotion.

Though it will be a difficult climb back to competing inside the cage again, McCourt is confident that her friend will bounce back one way or another.

“He’s the most positive, kind, caring person,” McCourt said. “I’m sure anybody who talks about him will say such amazing things about him, and he’s such a talent, and all he ever wanted to do was to make it to the UFC. He had all the skill, he had the attitude, the charm, everything, and it just really breaks my heart that this has happened to him. I just keep thinking, ‘Why him of all people? Why does this happen to him?’

“But we believe everything is going to be for a reason. He’s going to go on to achieve brilliant things in whatever happens. He could commentate, he could take up a different sport, he could do so much, but there is definitely a long road ahead and that’s why I think I set up that fundraising page, because he isn’t going to be able to work. He has a young family and we don’t know how long, there’s no ending, every day is like a roller coaster. We just try and take it day by day.”

See an update from Curtis and his family below and consider supporting them with a donation to his GoFundMe campaign here.

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