BRIGHTON, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — A grandmother in Central New York has not only survived, but almost fully recovered from a devastating injury that technically decapitated her.

Ellen Bernitt of Brighton suffered a catastrophic injury while body surfing with her grandchildren last year.

CBS-affiliate WROC reports Bernitt had slammed her head on the ocean floor in July of 2018. That accident resulted in what doctors call an “internal decapitation.”

“Her head wasn’t really where it should be in relation to her spine,” Dr. Anthony Petraglia, a neurosurgeon at Rochester Regional Health, told WROC.

“It was completely dislocated from where it should be sitting on her neck.”

Shockingly, the decapitation wasn’t properly diagnosed right after the accident!

Bernitt was taken to a local hospital where doctors placed her in a neck brace and reportedly told her she would recover in about 12 weeks.

“They told me I was fine and wear a collar,” Bernitt told WROC reporter Stephanie Golden.

Unknown at the time, that neck brace was actually the only thing keeping the New York grandmother alive.

Doctors say that if the brace had been removed, any slight movement could have severed Bernitt’s spinal cord – killing her instantly.

After discovering the internal decapitation, Dr. Petraglia reportedly used metal plates to reattach his patient’s head and neck.

“This is typically seen in situations where people can have sudden death at the time of the injury,” Petraglia explained.

Over a year later, the grandmother has reportedly worked tirelessly to reclaim her life and is now able to play with her grandchildren and participate in one of her favorite activities – golf.

Medical experts tell WROC just 30 percent of patients that suffer an internal decapitation survive the injury.


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