Cedar Springs woman survives internal decapitation

Kent County

CEDAR SPRINGS, Mich. (WOOD) — That Lila DeLine survived the car crash that internally decapitated her is astounding, doctors say.

Dr. Charles Gibson, a trauma and acute care surgeon at Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids, said DeLine’s spinal cord broke so far up that it was essentially the same injury you’d see from a guillotine.

She is the first patient he has seen survive such a severe injury.

“Just her getting here is nothing short of a miracle,” Gibson said. “Most people don’t even make it from the scene of the crash with this sort of injury.”

The pain from her injuries is still visible from the winces on DeLine’s face, but that doesn’t undermine her undeniable progress.

“There’s still times where I sit here now and go, ‘My head is screwed on, literally screwed on, and that’s the only thing keeping it on,'” she told 24 Hour News 8 Tuesday inside her Cedar Springs home.

She explained that she had almost made it home on Aug. 16 when another car hit hers. Her husband was in the driveway, anticipating her arrival.

“He was looking at my car when she hit me,” DeLine said.

Her vehicle landed in the ditch by her house. Photos of the crash show the twisted, mangled metal. She doesn’t remember what happened, but family members filled in her in later.

“I was slumped over the center console, not breathing,” DeLine said.

Her husband Ben put his first aid skills to work. He secured his wife’s head while a witness held the phone to his ear, 911 dispatchers on the line.

“He sat there holding my head and neck the entire time until the paramedics came,” DeLine said.

Keeping her head still allowed her to breathe and likely saved her life, according to doctors.

“I took care of her while she was in the ICU and she couldn’t move anything. The best that she could do is blink to commands. She couldn’t move. She couldn’t talk. She couldn’t do anything. She wasn’t even breathing on her own,” Gibson explained.

“I thought that was going to be my life. I thought that my life was going to be ventilators and diapers and not being able to communicate,” an emotional DeLine said.

That wasn’t what was in store. Her treatment at Butterworth and Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital yielded unbelievable results. She can now talk, walk, cook and even continue home-schooling her children.

“It’s one of the most remarkable things that I’ve ever seen. I was completely floored,” Gibson said.

DeLine credits the hospitals and especially encouraging nurses for motivating her through dark times. She admitted negative thoughts often clouded her mind, but her love for her two daughters served as an extra dose of strength.

“I remember laying there going, ‘Nuh-uh. This isn’t me,'” she recalled. “‘I’m not staying in this bed. I’m going to do what I need to do to get out of this situation.'”

DeLine still visits Mary Free Bed twice per week for physical therapy. She said she’ll never fully be the same person, but believes their treatment is what makes her a walking miracle.

The at-fault driver was charged with one count of a moving violation causing serious impairment of a body function, a Kent County sheriff’s official said.

Editor’s note: The original version of this story said the at-fault driver held the phone to the ear of DeLine’s husband so he could speak to 911 dispatchers. We have corrected the story to state that it was a witness who held the phone, not the at-fault driver. 

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