Most of us take the ability to stand up straight for granted. We can see the sky, look our loved ones in the eye, and fall asleep flat on our backs without pain.

For Li Hua, though, this reality that so many of us don’t think twice about was something that was denied to him for 28 years. A video translated by the South China Morning Post shows that at age 18, Hua was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis (AS), which caused his spine to fuse and curve forward dramatically. His condition became worse with time, as his family couldn’t afford the treatment he needed to get his spine repaired when he was younger. As a result, he spent nearly three decades “folded” over, with his breastbone meeting his pubic bone and his face touching his thighs at all times.

The surgery required to help Hua was dangerous and complex. It could kill or paralyze him, and the team of surgeons operating on him had to be extremely careful. In the end, they performed four surgeries, often having to break his bones to reconstruct them, slowly allowing Hua’s body to return to a more upright position.

Thankfully, Hua’s story has a happy ending. He made it out of the surgery and can now do things he hadn’t been able to do for 28 years, like sleeping on his back and looking at his mother’s face. After so much suffering, this brave man can finally begin to live life with his head held high.

Take a a look at the video from the South China Morning Post to see Hua’s journey:

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