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UAB care team leads patient through life-changing internal decapitation

This is a amazing story of a healthcare team's success when the odds were grim.

Christy Bullock was taking a motorcycle ride with her father in fall 2021 near Mount Cheaha in east Alabama. It was a ride that would change her life forever.

Bullock was airlifted to the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her prognosis was poor. She had a tear in her vertebral and carotid arteries, as well as a significant laceration on her chin. She sustained a major, paralyzing injury to her arm and an injury to her brachial plexus, which is a network of nerves that send signals from the spinal cord to the shoulder, arm and hand.

Bullock also had a tibial plateau fracture, five or six ribs were fractured, and she had a liver laceration, adrenal hematomas and a laceration of her spleen. If that were not enough, her lungs were bruised, and many internal organs were bruised or bleeding.

But that wasn’t the worst of it. She also had an atlanto-occipital dislocation. An internal decapitation.

“The most life-threatening of her injuries was an atlanto-occipital dislocation — which means all ligaments that connect her skull to her spine were severed. This is often fatal,” Godzik said. “Just to put it in perspective, the normal distance between the skull and spine is usually 1-2 millimeters. Survivable trauma might reach 3-5mm of separation. Hers was 10-15mm.”

“I was in the UAB ICU for almost three months,” Bullock said. “I had a really hard time. Days and nights starting mixing, and I was experiencing deliria.”

Operation Sunset

Bullock’s nurses — Stacey McCoy and Lauren Brown — who she still talks with to this day, noticed she was having a hard time. So, they enacted “Operation Sunset.” After about an hour of safely preparing Bullock for the transport, Bullock’s nurses wheeled her up to the helipad of UAB Hospital so that Bullock could see the sunset. For Bullock, this was a memory she will never forget.

“When they took me up to see the sunset over Birmingham, I cried the entire time, and so did my family,” Bullock said. “UAB went above and beyond caring for me. Stacey and Lauren also came to see me often, doing my hair, painting my nails and decorating my room in Christmas lights, even on their days off.”

Trauma surgeon Lauren Tanner, M.D., in the Division of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery, admitted Bullock on her arrival at UAB Hospital. In addition to the immediate trauma care team, Bullock was also treated by Department of Neurosurgery Assistant Professor Jakub Godzik, M.D., who described the situation as grim at best.The beauty of multidisciplinary care

Godzik notes that part of Bullock’s successful recovery was thanks to the collaborative nature of the UAB Department of Neurosurgery and all teams involved in her care

This is true teamwork from all involved.

1 Comment

Aug 17, 2022

I think what save her, ultimately, was the fact that those who found her, her friends, etc, were medics. They knew what to do. Then the exceptional care she received, and the combination of care she received from all the different professionals. All that is what helped her. Plus the care she continues to get, only seals the fact that she survived because of her will to live, and her luck she had with the people around her she had surrounding her.

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