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Intel

Here's how one Marine survived an internal decapitation

In the summer of 2011, Marine Gunnery Sgt. David Smith was out riding his motorcycle about a block away from his home in San Diego when something absolutely terrible happened — he was viciously rear-ended by an SUV. Witnesses report that a Chevrolet Blazer hit the Marine and quickly fled the scene.

The horrible crash left Smith with extensive damage to his spinal cord and deadly internal bleeding. When the paramedics arrived at the scene, the Marine was unresponsive, so they initiated spinal-damage protocol and effectively stabilized his neck and provided him with oxygen.

Gunnery Sgt. Dave Smith (Photo by Vanessa Potts)

He was rushed to the hospital where a team of medical professionals, led by Dr. David Cloyd, put Smith through several tests to better identify his exact injuries. An MRI showed that Smith had suffered from an internal spinal decapitation. Once the results were confirmed, the medical staff devised proper treatment for the Marine, who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Their goal was to stabilize Smith's delicate vertebrae, working extremely carefully to avoid doing any additional damage to the spinal cord. Doctors were unsure if Smith would ever walk again.


Approximately 10 days later, Smith was rolled into surgery where highly-trained doctors and nurses fused three of his cervical vertebrae back together — a very complicated procedure.

Gunnery Sgt. David W. Smith (left) stands Sgt. Jeremy W. Caddell (right) was awarded the Navy and Marine the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation for being a key contributor in saving Smith's life after Smith was a victim of a hit-and-run accident in Rancho Bernardo.(Photo by Marine Lance Cpl. Crystal Druery)

Courageously, just two days later, Smith managed to generate enough strength to take his first steps since the horrible crash. This compelled the strong Marine to begin his pain-filled physical therapy process, through which he hoped to regain his old strength.

After three short weeks, Smith walked out of the Palomar Medical Center and straight into the medical history books as one of the very few, lucky individuals to have recovered from internal spinal decapitation.

The drunk driver who fled the scene was found and sentenced to four years and four months in prison.