Boy Suffers Internal Decapitation

Car accident severs 2-year-old boy's skull from his spine.

ByABC News
November 2, 2010, 4:00 PM

Dec. 14, 2010 — -- Heather Andrews, 34, of Phoenix felt a vehicle slam into the front passenger side of the car she was riding in one night last August.

"I was trying to work through the sensations I was feeling in my legs and arm," said Andrews.

She called out to her children who were sitting in the back seat. Her 4-year-old daughter responded, but her 2-year-old son, Micah, who was sitting in the rear passenger seat, lay still.

"I put my hands on either side of his face, because if he was to wake up I didn't want him to jolt," she said. "And I leaned as close to him as I could and listened to his breath."

Before long, rescue teams pulled them out of the car and rushed them to St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix. John Andrews, 34, Andrews' husband, who wasn't involved in the accident, met his family at the hospital.

"I walked in and saw Heather," he said. "She said, 'I'm fine but Micah's not responding.' It was shocking. It knocked the wind right out of me."

Micah was strapped into a car seat at the time of the accident, which many believed had initially saved his life. Still, doctors told his parents that the impact had jolted his head sideways so forcefully that his skull separated from his spine -- a condition called atlanto-occipital dislocation.

"Essentially, this is a child whose head was not connected to the rest of the body," said Dr. Nicholas Theodore, a neurosurgeon at Barrow Neurological Institute, part of St Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center, who treated Micah.

Even the slightest head movement in Micah's condition could stretch his spinal cord and lead to paralysis or death. Theodore told the Andrews' he would need to operate to save Micah's life.

"I was really concerned with them being able to keep him stable," said Heather Andrews. "It's surgery next to your brain stem and nerves. It's not a large space to be doing such an intricate surgery."

But Micah's parents said they couldn't help but feel relieved by Theodore's reassurance.