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How I survived internal decapitation – and got to thank those who saved me

A year after Rachel Bailey severed her skull from her spine during a car accident, she got to meet her rescuers in September to say, 'Thank you'

Editor's note: As part of our year-end coverage, we look back at some of 2012's biggest news stories and reconnect with some of those involved. In this exclusive article, Rachel Bailey talks about the day in September she was able to thank the firefighters who saved her life after she suffered an internal decapitation during a car crash a year earlier. 

By Rachel Bailey

I still can't remember anything two days prior to the accident and five weeks afterwards. The first thing I can remember thinking after those five weeks is feeling that everything was going be OK — that's my first memory.

I felt an almost indescribable peace, that I was in good hands and that everything was going to work out.

In August, the month before the anniversary of my accident, I decided that I wanted to go to the station and show the people who saved my life how I was doing and honor them.

In September, a date was set to meet them. I was kind of excited. It was good to know I'd be able to fill in the gaps.

When I first went to the station, I was met by Captain Wayde Kline, who was at the crash scene that night. I had already met him after the crash when he spoke at our Trauma Survivors Network at John C. Lincoln Hospital. At that time, he asked us to come to dinner at the fire station and meet the whole crew who responded to her accident.

At the station, he introduced me to the rest of the team who saved me that night — Mark Heltzel, Mike Doran and Moe Fatongiatau — and we talked about everything that happened.

We talked about their observation of the accident and what they were thinking, how they figured out that I was critically injured, and how they were smart enough not to move me before stabilizing my neck.

That night had all kind of been a mystery to me. Meeting them that day at the fire station made me feel very grateful that I had them on my side that night when I needed them the most.

Firefighters have one of the most important jobs in the world. They are the first responders and what they do matters immensely.

Today, I feel great. I am still doing physical therapy eight hours a day, four days a week – it's like a full-time job. But I feel strong and I feel I am getting better every day.

I am going back to John C. Lincoln Hospital, where I spent a month in the Intensive Care Unit, where I am involved in their Trauma Survivors Support Network and visit patients who have suffered traumatic injuries to encourage them.

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