22-year-old Survives Rare Internal Decapitation Injury From Crash

An Indiana teenager who beat brain cancer in his teens has once again defied the odds and survived an often fatal injury called internal decapitation.

The man, 22-year-old Brock Meister of Plymouth, Indiana, was involved in a serious car accident in January, during which his car hit a patch of ice and flipped over.Meister’s head hit the window of his car, causing him to be “internally decapitated,” according to Beacon Health System, the parent company of the hospital where Meister was being treated A blog post.

Internal decapitation is the severing of the ligaments that connect a person’s skull to the spine. (The term “decapitation” is a bit of a misnomer, since the head is still attached to the body.)

The Beacon Health System says doctors rarely see this type of injury in patients, in part because most patients with such injuries die on the spot or on the way to the hospital.

Dr. Toba Niazi, a pediatric neurosurgeon at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami, told Live Science in a 2016 interview that the injury is so serious because when ligaments in this area are severed, the head can move more than it should, causing damage to the lower brainstem, an area important for controlling breathing. (Niazi was not involved in Meister’s case.)

Fortunately, one of Meister’s friends held him down after the accident so that Meister wouldn’t try to get up. When paramedics arrived on the scene, they tried to carefully stabilize Meister and move him from the car to a stretcher so he could be transported to the hospital.

Meister was taken to Memorial Hospital in South Bend, Indiana.Beacon Health System said he was only the second visceral decapitated patient brought to this hospital.

Meister underwent surgery to place a skull plate, rods and spinal screws in his neck to stabilize the injury. He then needed to undergo rehabilitation, as well as wear a neck brace for several months after the injury. Right now, Meister continues to have some difficulty moving his right arm, as well as pain in his lower extremities, and he is continuing to receive physical therapy.

“Physical rehabilitation takes some time, and it can be a frustrating and painful process,” said Dr. Kashif Shaikh, the neurosurgeon at Beacon Medical Group who treated Meister.” But he’s young, he has a great attitude, and every time I see him, he looks better and better.”

Meister’s mother, Jenna, said, “I really know that God saved my child the night of the [car accident]…. Our child is a miracle.”