Freak Medical Survival Stories

The picture of a three-inch nail stuck in a healthy 58-year-old man's skull begs the question, how does one get so lucky?

"I refer to him when I teach as the luckiest man I've ever encountered," said Dr. Anne Hayman, a professor of neuroradiology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and one of the doctors who submitted the photo to the New England Journal of Medicine.

It turns out a lot of these survivors have plain luck to thank. The inexplicability of it all is what makes many survival stories so intriguing. Here's a look at some incredible medical stories from the past few years:

Minnesota State Trooper Glen Pothen suffered only a scraped-up arm May 18, 2005, when an out-of-control truck slammed into him along Interstate 694. Many who saw his head snap back when the truck hit him thought for sure the impact would have killed him.

"There's no legitimate reason why the three of us, especially me, are here at this moment," he said at a news conference.

Patrick Lawler went to the dentist complaining of a toothache. But the source of the pain was surprising.

A four-inch nail lodged in Lawler's skull was the cause of the pain on the roof of his mouth. Apparently, a nail gun that backfired on the construction worker on Jan. 6, 2005, a week before, had unloaded two four-inch nails, not one as he had originally thought.

The tool sent a nail into a piece of wood nearby, and another one that Lawler didn't realize sailed through his mouth and lodged into his skull.

Following the accident, Lawler had what he thought was a minor toothache and blurry vision. After painkillers and ice didn't ease the pain, he went to a dental office where the nail was found and he was taken to a nearby hospital where it was removed in a four-hour surgery.

An 18-year-old Arizona man survived having his head literally ripped off in an accident with a drunken driver. Marcos Parra's car was hit by the other vehicle in January 2003 so hard his head was detached from his body. Only skin and some vital internal circuits held it on.

Marcos was rushed from the scene to the emergency room of a hospital in Phoenix. The doctors there had never seen such injuries, but his spinal cord and arteries weren't damaged. His head was reattached with surgical screws and a piece of his pelvis was used to patch his neck and skull together.

In another remarkable survival story, Tiwon Barton was run over by a car May 25, 2005, and lived to tell about it. After running into another car, a driver drove onto the sidewalk and then over Barton.

"He ran totally over my whole body and with the blessings of God I can stand up, walk with no problem, you know, it's a little sore, but you know what I mean, I'm here," Barton told ABC7 in Los Angeles.

A 58-year-old man who survived a nail gun accident that drove a nail three inches into his head without causing major damage was called the "luckiest man" a doctor ever saw.

An X-ray of the nail in the anonymous man's head was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

A 69-year-old woman survived after plummeting nine stories from a condominium balcony in Florida onto a canvas awning. She was rescued by neighbors.

Gloria Jummati got out of the hospital just one day after she suffered only a shoulder injury in the fall on May 11, 2005.

A police spokesman said Jummati is "very, very lucky" and might want to consider going out to buy a lottery ticket.

After Pat Skinner went under the knife at Sydney's St George Hospital to have part of her colon removed, she was given a clean bill of health.

But over the next 18 months, in April 2004, when she complained of severe abdominal pain she was told she was recovering.

It was only after insisting on having an X-ray that she discovered a pair of 17-centimeter surgical scissors had been left inside her.