What Is Internal Decapitation? Man Makes 'Miracle' Recovery after Black Ice Car Crash

Brock Meister
Brock Meister was internally decapitated after a car accident in January 2018. Beacon Health System

Brock Meister came within an inch of dying on January 12, 2018 when the vehicle his friend was driving slipped on black ice and rolled onto the passenger side, smashing his head into the window and internally decapitated him.

"Half my body was out the window," Meister recalled in a statement. The driver pulled him back in after the vehicle righted itself and rolled to a halt.

Now on the road to recovery, the 22-year-old from Plymouth, Indiana, has spoken about defying the odds. "Blood was just running down my face. My neck hurt but I didn't realize how bad it was hurt that night," he told NBC affiliate 16 WNDU.

His friend Ryan Topper, who had also been at the dinner, was driving ahead of Meister, and knew something was wrong when he could no longer see his friend's headlights. He turned back to check on him and arrived to see blood streaming down his face.

"Brock kept trying to get up and the only words he was saying were 'my neck' and 'ambulance.' I knew that he was in some serious pain and that if it was his neck, I couldn't let him get up and move," Topper said.

"So I just put my hand over his chest and kept him from getting up. I kept talking to him, reassuring him everything was going to be all right, and that he's 'my boy Brock,' not letting him move until the ambulance showed up."

At Memorial Hospital, an x-ray revealed he had suffered a traumatic atlanto-occipital dislocation, also known as an internal decapitation. His skull had separated from his spine. It's an injury that can often kill, and leave lasting damage to the spine, brain, muscles and nerves.

Most patients who experience an atlanto-occipital dislocation die instantly or on the way to the hospital, according to Memorial Hospital where he was treated. Meister was only the second patient in the history of the facility to be treated with the injury, and there are only a handful of cases of survivors in the U.S.

Medical staff told his mother Jenna Meister that her son had defied the odds. "Things easily could have been more tragic and my time spent with him could be at the cemetery. Our boy is a miracle," she said in a statement.

Dr. Kashif Shaikh, Beacon Medical Group neurosurgeon who treated Meister, received a page about at 2 a.m., and assessed his x-rays at home before heading to the hospital.

"I had to check twice to make sure I was looking at the right patient's picture—it's such an uncommon injury, and an even less common injury to survive," he said.

Surgeons performed a lifesaving procedure on Meister, using a skull plate, spinal screws and a rod to correct his injuries. The same medical team who saved Meister's life also treated him when he had a cancerous brain tumour six years ago.

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"I have fought for my life this time around, and some days I feel like I still am. God has put me through some crazy stuff, and he's really testing me," Meister said. "It was kind of scary at first, but I have more movement than I thought I would, so that's good. I'm just thankful to be here, so that's all that matters."

He is now working through pain in his right arm and the lower half of his body.

"Brock somehow survived a brain tumor as a child, and now, only a few years later, he has survived an almost universally fatal injury. It is truly incredible," said Dr. Shaikh.

In a Facebook post to mark six months since Meister's accident, his mother wrote: "At 22 you have dealt with more than most do in a lifetime. We pray that you continue to heal physically and emotionally."