Internal decapitation happens when the ligaments and tissues attaching the skull to the spine are severed. Less than one-third of children who suffer this type of injury survive. Even less fully recover. Aniya Bender is one of those fortunate few to survive with only partial paralysis.
Her mother Tanya thought she was keeping her daughter safe when she moved 2-year-old Aniya to a forward-facing car seat, the recommended car seat for children at least 2-years -old. Now Tanya wishes she had selected the car seat based on her daughter’s height and weight instead of age.
“Her seat was correctly installed in the car according to the car seat requirements and the law now,” Tanya wrote on Facebook. “If she had been rear facing she would have not suffered any injury at all.”
“She will never be able to do sports or tumbling, riding horses or cheerleading even.”
Aniyah’s skull was severed from her spine at the C1 vertebrae. Young children are at a far greater risk of internal decapitation during a car accident because their bodies are still developing and their heads are a greater percentage of their total body weight than adults.
“A toddler’s vertebrae are connected via cartilage rather than ossified bone. Those connections are called synchondroses, which are slowly closing over time,” explains Car Seats for the Littles. “… Before age two, none of the cartilaginous spaces have completed ossification. Those pieces of cartilage have the ability to stretch up to two inches. Yet only 1/4 inch stretch is enough to rupture the spinal column, resulting in paralysis or death.”
Benjamin Hoffman, professor of pediatrics at Oregon Health & Science University School of Medicine in Portland, explains why a rear-facing car seat is so important during these early stages of childhood development.
“Facing forward, the head and neck are thrown forward violently in a crash, and the same forces that can lead to whiplash in an adult can actually cause the spine of a young child to separate and injure the spinal cord,” he said in a Forbes article.
“If the child is rear-facing, all of the force is spread over the entire back of the child, allowing it to be absorbed by the seat, and cradling the head and neck to prevent injuries to that most vulnerable part of our body.”
Aniyah is now 4-years-old, and her road to recovery has been nothing short of miraculous. While she may never regain full control over her body, she has a far better quality of life than most victims of this tragic injury.
After her Facebook post went viral, Tanya hopes that her daughter’s story will help spread awareness and help prevent similar accidents from happening to more children.