Spiridonov's reason for wanting a new body is entirely understandable. He suffers from a genetic muscle-wasting condition called Werdnig-Hoffmann disease that has left him paralyzed and very weak. But the head transplant procedure and recovery process he will have to endure won't exactly be a walk in the park.
During surgery, Spiridonov's body and the donor body will be cooled to a very low temperature, then his neck and spinal cord will be cut with an exceptionally sharp knife to reduce any tissue damage. After being treated with polyethylene glycol, a chemical that preserves nerve cell membranes, his head will then be fused to the body of the donor. He will then remain in a drug-induced coma for about four months until healing is complete.
The sci-fi nature of the procedure doesn't seem to intimidate Spiridonov, who's managed to stay quite optimistic. "When I realized that I could participate in something really big and important, I had no doubt left in my mind and started to work in this direction," Spiridonov, told Central European News in September last year. "The only thing I feel is the sense of pleasant impatience, like I have been preparing for something important all my life and it is starting to happen."
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Many neurologists remain cautious however, warning of the many risks and unknowns involved in such a procedure. "I would not wish this on anyone," Hunt Batjer, president of the American Association for Neurological Surgeons, said last year. "I would not allow anyone to do it to me as there are a lot of things worse than death."
But Canavero insists that the VR system will prepare Spiridonov for adverse reactions. "This virtual reality system prepares the patient in the best possible way for a new world that he will be facing with his new body," Canavero said at the the annual Glasgow Neuro Conference on Friday. "A world in which he will be able to walk again."
Canavero began his journey to perform a human head transplant with the goal of helping people who are completely paralyzed. "This operation is aimed at restoring independence of severely disabled people," he told CEN last year. "Once I get it back I'll see what the life of a healthier person looks like."
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