We’ve all heard stories of near misses with paralysis after a broken neck. An Australian toddler may have had the closest call to date.
Sixteen-month-old Jaxon Taylor was with his mother and sister when their car collided head on with another vehicle at 70 miles per hour. The rest of the family suffered moderate injuries (the sister had several inches of lower intestine removed from an injury; she was also treated for internal bleeding but is expected to make a full recovery over the next couple of months), while the young boy was hardest hit.
Jaxon’s head snapped forward with such force that it tore free from his body, severing two vertebrae and tearing ligaments. He was internally decapitated.
We typically think of decapitation in the horror film sensibilities—something involving a hatchet or makeshift guillotine—so here’s a little brief on how someone can be decapitated and still have their head attached to their body.
Internal decapitation is a broader term for what happens when the head is dislocated from the body. That may mean the tearing of ligaments, the crushing of vertebrae, or some combination that catastrophically misaligns the pathway of the spinal cord. In many cases C1 and C2 can be broken (the latter being called a Hangman’s fracture, though poorly named, as it doesn’t resemble the injury caused by hanging).
To get an image of exactly what happens, picture someone shaking a bobble head so violently that the spring stretches out. This injury only really happens when a sudden impact stops the body short, and the head flails unrestricted, tearing and breaking its bodily tethers.
Internal decapitation is more technically known as atlanto-occipital dislocation, and it tends to happen during high-speed collisions, frequently to infants (larger heads, sudden stop, maybe no airbag).
Usually when an internal decapitation happens, the spinal cord is severed, and that’s pretty much it. It is fatal immediately in most cases: Different statistics say between 70 and 95 percent of the time, it means instant death.
It’s a rare enough occurrence that when someone does survive, they tend to make the news. Last year a Colorado man survived internal decapitation during a high-speed collision; he wasn’t wearing a seatbelt. In 2010, a toddler in Arizona survived a similar injury to Jaxon after a vehicle crash. Two years later in the same town, a 23-year-old woman also suffered internal decapitation and survived. Same thing for this New Jersey Marine, who was on a motorcycle.
The good news is that in Jaxon’s case, his spinal cord stayed intact, despite being wrenched and stretched among the fragments of broken vertebrae. Once they stabilized him, doctors were able to brace his neck, and perform an elaborate surgery that will, in a short time, ready him to continue on whole again.
While Jaxon may be on the downhill side of his nightmare, his mother is just beginning her own battle. In this case the other car, occupied by a group of teens doing burnouts, had driven up large clouds of dust just off a highway. Neither car saw the other before the collision.
Jaxon’s mother is now in the beginning stages of trying to change reckless-driving laws; the boys are likely to receive fines and suspended-driving sentences.