Photo by: Claes Hultling private archives


he founder of the Spinalis Foundation is seen by many as the Swedish Christopher Reeve because, since sustaining an injury to his spine, he has dedicated his life to researching spinal cord injuries and promoting better rehabilitation.

Claes Hultling is the founder of and a practicing doctor at the Spinalis Foundation and the clinic specialising in spinal cord injuries at Rehab Station Stockholm. The Spinalis Foundation is a public foundation whose main aim is to promote the research and development of treatment programmes for spinal cord injuries.

The history of Spinalis began in 1984, when Claes Hultling dived into the water, hit a rock and broke his neck. He became paralysed from his chest down. At the time of the accident, he was working as an anaesthesiologist at Karolinska Hospital. He found it difficult to work as an anaesthesiologist with a broken neck and, at the same time, realised that his services and life experience were needed to assist others who had suffered a spinal cord injury. Therefore, Claes Hultling decided to devote his life to rehabilitate people with spinal cord injuries.

A fatal dive

“It all started on the last day of May in 1984. I was 30 years old and worked as an anaesthesiologist in the intensive care unit at the Karolinska University Hospital. A group of colleagues from the hospital Department of Anaesthesiology decided to take one of the commuting/passenger boats departing from Stockholm centre and we headed towards an island in the archipelago. Before dinner, there was time to take a quick swim, which I did. The first dive went OK, but when I dove the second time, I hit a concrete construction that was meant to support an extended jetty-to-be. I became 100% paralysed and sank to the bottom. I had my life played for me in a fast rerun, and I recall being more sad than desperate. After a little bit more than a minute, two of my doctor friends rescued me and brought me to the surface. The first words I said were ‘Thanks for saving my life’.

The rest is an interesting tale that starts with my being brought to the hospital where I worked by the rescue helicopter squad (who I had worked with prior to the accident) and having to go through normal procedures as any other patient with a broken neck or a broken back.

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