Mark Bussell and Oleksandr Bondarev

Junior race car driver Oleksandr Bondarev found relief at Loma Linda University Health's Neuropathic Therapy Center. Mark Bussell directs the center.

Oleksandr Bondarev, the season champion of the 2023 FIA Karting European Junior series, is no ordinary kart driver. He's been a rising star in the kart racing world since age 7 and has consistently placed highly in events across Europe for more than eight years.

Bondarev's 2023 accomplishments capped an amazing comeback story, one that began at the end of April 2022, when he suffered severe leg injuries during a crash in an FIA race in Zuera, Spain. While pushing to move from eighth place into the top five, Bondarev's kart was contacted by a rival racer. The resulting spin-out left Bonderev stopped in the middle of a straightaway, where he was then rammed by a second racer who was traveling so fast that he couldn’t react in time to avoid the contact.

The crash's severity caused officials to immediately stop the race, allowing emergency personnel to rush to the scene. Taken to a hospital in Barcelona, Bondarev ultimately needed 10 surgeries during the next two months to deal with severe leg injuries.

Bondarev's championship spirit motivated him to begin rehabilitation as soon as possible, with an eye toward returning to racing. Though initially, it seemed it would be challenging for him even to walk unassisted, Bondarev pushed himself to the point that he could return to the track in the fall of 2022.

One of the after-effects of Bondarev's injury was neuropathy, caused by inflammation in his lower left leg and foot. This inflammation ultimately kept circulation out of two essential nerves, leading to him losing strength in his left foot. While surgery was an alternative, Bondarev and his family began looking for alternative methods.

"If I would have undergone surgery to try to find the nerve that was gone because of the accident, or during one of the following ten surgeries, the rehab would have taken more than half of the year from my racing life Bondarev said. "I didn't want to do that."

Fortunately, Bondarev had an uncle who worked as a pediatrician living in Las Vegas and wanted to help. The uncle believed Bondarev needed medical intervention beyond standard therapy options such as exercise or massage. The uncle had researched the approaches offered by Loma Linda University Health's Neuropathic Therapy Center. He convinced Bondarev that coming to Loma Linda was his best option.

Arriving at the Center on December 26, 2022, Bondarev's initial exam revealed significant loss of motion in his left large toe, difficulty lifting his toes, and a general loss of strength throughout his left foot.

Bondarev says that racers use their left foot as their braking foot. Doctors in Spain did everything they could to put the bones back in place, allowing him some ability to use his kart's brakes.

Mark Bussell, DPT, director of the Neuropathic Therapy Center, correctly diagnosed that Bondarev's issues were the result of poor nerve circulation and began a series of Intraneural Facilitation (INF®) treatments. INF® therapy is a treatment Bussell developed that restores blood flow to damaged nerves through a series of physical holds.

"These holds stretch specific nerve areas and induce a pressurized blood flow into the damaged nerves," Bussell said. "The restored blood flow rejuvenates the nerve, reducing pain, numbness, and other neuropathic symptoms." This evidence-based approach is only available through the Neuropathic Therapy Centers at Loma Linda University Health.

Bondarev quickly began seeing significant progress with his left foot's mobility, sensations, and strength.

"It's hard to explain the feeling when you begin to do things you have not been able to do for a long time and even lost hope of ever doing again," he said. “The tests for gluten, sugar, and dairy, which were also part of the treatment, totally changed my diet and my racing results."

While Bussell has treated patients with similar issues, Bondarev is the first patient he has worked with following a car-racing accident. Bondarev's series of INF® sessions largely resolved his nerve circulation issues. Bussell received reports that Bondarev's doctors in Spain are pleased with his response to rehabilitation and have elected to forgo additional surgeries.

While he was able to return to Kart racing in 2023, Bondarev made a return visit to the Neuropathic Therapy Center during that summer and expects to make a third trip for a follow-up in the summer of 2024.

"The incident could have been the end of my career if I could not effectively brake anymore," Bondarev said. "Loma Linda University Health's treatment allowed me to feel my foot sensations again, which has helped me to brake with better timing and accuracy and win races again."

Bondarev's inspiring story of overcoming injury and returning to completion has set the stage for the next phase of his auto racing journey. In September 2023, Bondarev joined the Driver Academy operated by Williams, a British Formula One racing organization. The first Ukrainian Williams has signed, Bondarev hopes to move to the team's F4 racing program by 2025.

While the twin challenges of his severe injuries and the ongoing war in his family's home nation have challenged Bondarev's resilience, he is focused on his long-term goal of improving and moving up through Williams' F3 and F2 divisions to someday being a Williams driver on the international F1 circuit.

If you or someone you know is experiencing nerve pain — including weakness, numbness or chronic pain — please visit the NTC website or call 909-558-6799.