30-year-old Shannon Malloy, critically injured in a car accident, skull separating from her spine, has survived to tell her story. Doctors call her recovery a miracle.
A car crash slammed her into the dashboard. Her skull separated from her spine, although her skin, spinal cord and other internal organs remained intact. The rare condition is known clinically as internal decapitation, and it left her with no control over her head.
Surgeons said her injuries were different from a broken neck, which usually occurs when vertebrae in the neck are cracked or broken. In her case, her skull had been knocked completely off the top of the spinal column.
The spinal cord carrying all the vital nerves between the brain and the rest of the body is often severed in severe neck injuries, causing paralysis and often leaving victims as quadriplegics who are unable to move at all, like the former Superman, the late Christopher Reeve.
Miraculously her spinal cord was not damaged. She can walk and has the full use of her arms and hands. Surgeons at the Denver Spine Centre in Colorado reattached Miss Malloy's skull to the top of her spinal column with five screws through her neckbones. Then they held her head steady by screwing a steel 'halo' around the top of her skull which was attached to her shoulders by rods.
Nearly four months after the crash, the surgeons have removed the halo and a neck brace that had also helped to hold Malloy's head steady.
Dr. Gary Ghiselli, an orthopedic spine surgeon at the Denver Spine Center, said he and his colleagues had never seen such an injury in someone still living.
'It's a miracle that she was able to survive from the actual accident,' Ghiselli said. 'It's a miracle that she's made the progress that she's made.'
'I've seen it once before,' Ghiselli said, 'and, unfortunately, the patient didn't make it.'
Physicians in Nebraska, where Malloy lives, told relatives they should prepare to say their goodbyes.
Ghiselli said a will to survive kept Malloy, 30, alive long enough for surgeons to insert screws in her head and neck and attach a halo to minimize movement no easy task.
Five screws were drilled into Malloy's neck. Four more were drilled into her head to keep it stabilized. Then a thing called a halo -- rods and a circular metal bar -- was attached for added support. It's not exactly a pain-free procedure.
'Oh my God, it's a miracle,' said Malloy in a TV interview, echoing her surgeon. She can only speak in short bursts between huge gasps for breath.
'My skull slipped off my neck about five times. Every time they tried to screw this to my head, I would slip,' said Malloy.
'I had a fractured skull, swollen brain stem, bleeding in my brain, GI tube in my stomach, can't swallow, and nerve damage in my eyes (because they cross),' she said.
Doctors will continue to work on Malloy's swallowing and vision.
Malloy said a big step in her recovery progress was the removal of her halo and it's made her hopeful that a full recovery is in sight.
'I would ideally like to be fully recovered. I know that's not going to be a great possibility. I could come real close though,' said Malloy.
Malloy still has a long, costly recovery ahead. A fund has been set up in her name.