Internal decapitation almost always results in death, but not only did 22-year-old Brock Meister survive the freak accident, the Indiana man has also nearly gained his full range of motion just eight months after the fateful day.
"I feel really lucky. It still goes through my mind everyday how lucky I am," Meister, of South Bend, told InsideEdition.com.
Meister continues to deal with some stiffness and discomfort in his right shoulder, but constant physical therapy and hard work has led doctors to determine he will make a full recovery.
"Some of my biggest fears [after the accident] were not knowing the outcome — if my arms would ever work again, if I would ever walk again,” Meister explained. “I just wasn’t sure about what was going to happen."
On Jan. 12, he and some friends were driving along a route they frequented every Friday night when their truck slid on black ice, hit a ditch, and rolled onto the passenger side.
Meister ended up taking all of the impact, since he was in the passenger seat after having a couple beers and asked his cousin to take the wheel.
"I remember everything," he said. "My head went through the window. I had my seatbelt on, but half my body was out the window. My cousin grabbed the back of my shirt and pulled me back in. I just remembered blood running down my face."
Meister was internally decapitated. His head, including the portion of his spine that connects to the skull, was completely separated from his neck.
His neurologist, Dr. Kashif Shaikh of Memorial Hospital, explained it is extremely rare patients of internal decapitation survive the initial impact, calling it “almost a universally fatal event.”
Somehow, Meister survived and was conscious the entire time, but a friend in another car convinced him not to move.
“I wanted to get up," Meister recalled. "My neck hurt, but I wanted to get up. Luckily [my friend] held me down and wouldn’t let me get up until the paramedics got there."
Shaikh said that quick-thinking on his friend’s part, as well as first responders’ careful work transporting him to the hospital, saved Meister’s life that night, explaining that any movement in the wrong direction can be life-altering or even fatal.
“That’s really the most dangerous time for him, is when he’s out in the field almost like a bobble head doll,” Shaikh said. “It’s an extremely rare event to make it to the hospital after suffering that type of injury. Once somebody does make it to the hospital, their chances of a good outcome increase significantly."
In fact, this wasn’t Dr. Shaikh’s first time encountering Meister. He treated Meister six years ago, when he was diagnosed with brain cancer six years ago.
His mom, Jenna Meister, said she could hardly believe her son encountered such a close brush with death.
“[I was] very emotional knowing he had beat brain cancer and have to go through this huge obstacle,” she said. “My greatest fear was he would survive but not have the ability to use his extremities. He’s very active, very productive person, he loves to be with his friends, he’s on the go all the time.
Dr. Shaikh explained that while Meister’s head was separated from his body, he was lucky that the internal structures only suffered minor injuries, but even after he was transported to the ICU following surgery and eventually became more stable, medical officials were unsure whether he would walk again.
When Meister’s health improved, he began doing physical therapy five days a week, several times a day, and quickly became frustrated when he wasn’t seeing any progress.
“It was just not fun at all, especially when your arms weren’t working right, your legs weren’t working right and [you don’t have full control over your] throat," he said. “I always thought, ‘Why me?’ Sometimes I felt like giving up. It was so hard, it wasn’t even worth it. I was scared this was going to be the rest of my life."
But he pushed forward, inspired by his family and friends, and doctors are optimistic he will go on to lead a normal life.
"It's such a rare injury to survive," Dr. Shaikh said.