Killian Gonzalez, 4, is still alive despite being internally decapitated during a car crash, reports KABC in Los Angeles. Killian and his mother, Brandy, were driving back from his birthday party in Nevada when the accident occurred. He survived thanks to the actions of a total stranger named Leah Woodward, who was in a nearby car with her husband when they witnessed the collision.
Internal decapitation -- or Atlanto-Occipital Dislocation (AOD) -- is “primarily an injury of the ligaments between the occiput and upper cervical spine, often without accompanying bony fractures,” according to the World Journal of Orthopedics. In other words, the skull is separated from the spine. “AOD is generally associated with high-energy trauma, including high-speed MVAs [motor vehicle accidents] or falls from heights, and thus should be considered as a possibility in any trauma involving large acceleration and deceleration forces,” notes the same source, which goes on to mention that AOD is three times more likely to happen to children than adults.
When Leah Woodward and her husband broke into the car and rescued the mother and child, Leah reportedly held Killian’s head perfectly still for more than half an hour while waiting for medical help to arrive. She later confessed that she did not actually know what she was doing, stating that “it was the worst feeling I've ever had to not know how to help,” KABC reports.
However, her instincts proved correct, because her actions were in accord with emergency protocol for the injury in question. As the World Journal of Orthopedics explains, “AOD is being increasingly recognized as a potentially survivable injury” due to “improvements in field resuscitation, cervical immobilization, rapid transport…” However, the injury is “still associated with significant morbidity and mortality,” making Leah’s life-saving actions all the more impressive.
"She saved my baby,” remarked Killian’s mother to KABC.