Woman Survives 'Internal Decapitation'

An X-ray of a skull. (Image credit: stock.xchng)

DENVER — Even her surgeon calls her a miracle. Shannon Malloy was critically injured Jan. 25 when 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 as clinically as internal decapitation, and it left her with no control over her head. Her injuries left Malloy with nerve damage that made her eyes cross, and she has difficulty swallowing. She was not paralyzed. She told her story to Denver station KMGH-TV. 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. “I've seen it once before,” Ghiselli said, “and, unfortunately, the patient didn't make it.” Even after the crash, 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. “My skull slipped off my neck about five times,” Malloy said. “Every time they tried to screw this to my head, I would slip.” Doctors eventually stabilized her head and strengthened her neck. The halo has since been removed. “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.”