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Doctor: Woman paralyzed on flight regains some movement

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Woman has two operations after injuries led to paralysis, surgeon says
  • NEW: "She is very brave and is talking," surgeon says
  • Woman struck head on bathroom ceiling during turbulence on plane, lawyer says
  • Federal aviation authorities investigating flight from Houston to McAllen, Texas
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(CNN) -- A 47-year-old woman who became paralyzed after breaking her neck and back on a turbulent flight is developing some motion in her toes and regaining some sensation after two operations, her doctor said Wednesday.

Dr. Trey Fulp, an orthopedic spine surgeon who performed the surgeries at McAllen Medical Center in McAllen, Texas, told CNN that the woman initially was paralyzed from the chest down.

She underwent six hours of surgery Saturday and a more than five-hour operation late Tuesday, the surgeon said.

"She is very brave and is talking," Fulp said. "If she walks again, I get the first dance."

The woman was on Continental Flight 511 en route from Houston, Texas, to McAllen early Saturday, a one-hour trip that had been delayed more than three hours because of severe storms that barreled through the Houston area on Friday night.

The woman's attorney, Ramon Garcia, said Tuesday that his client struck her head on the bathroom ceiling when the plane suddenly dropped during turbulence.

"We have a lady who got out of her seat and went to the bathroom," Garcia said. "And while either in the bathroom or coming out of the bathroom is when this situation occurred."

The woman was stretched out on the plane's floor for the remainder of the flight until paramedics could start treating her, the attorney said.

Fulp said another physician was on the flight. When that doctor realized the woman couldn't get up, he held her until the flight landed 20 minutes later.

Garcia said his client, a mother of three, did not want to be identified.

Continental spokeswoman Mary Clark on Tuesday confirmed that the flight -- carrying 104 passengers and five crew members -- experienced turbulence and that two passengers and a crew member were transported to a hospital in McAllen. Clark said one passenger and the crew member were released, but the other passenger remains hospitalized.

"Our focus is assisting the customer who is still in hospital and her family," Clark said.

Seat belt lights were illuminated during the turbulence, the spokeswoman said. However, it's not clear whether the passenger was already out of her seat when the light came on or whether she ignored the light and got up to go to the bathroom.

Federal aviation authorities are investigating.

The Federal Aviation Administration said it's providing crucial flight information to the National Transportation Safety Board.

CNN's Melanie Whitley and Ekin Middleton contributed to this report.

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