TODAY   |  October 06, 2012

Survivor of ‘internal decapitation’: ‘I’m ready to take on the world’

A car accident left Rachel Bailey, 23, fighting for her life and partially paralyzed, with a type of injury that’s usually fatal. Doctors have called her recovery “nothing short of amazing.” Bailey spoke with TODAY’s Jenna Wolfe in an exclusive interview.

Share This:

This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> now to an incredible story of survival. in a split second, rachel bailey's life changed forever when she was hit broad side by another vehicle. the force of the crash left her with a life-threatening neck injury and partially paralyzed. just a year later, doctors say her recovery is miraculous.

>> so this is the kind of food that i like.

>> reporter: for 23-year-old rachel bailey, this dinner was a moment to show gratitude to the phoenix firefighters who came to her aid after a violent car crash left her near death.

>> i wanted to know who had saved me. i wanted to thank them. and i wanted to honor them.

>> reporter: just one year ago, rachel was in a coma, the impact of a car accident had ruptured vital ligaments in her neck and forced the base of her skull off her spine. she suffered what's called an internal decapitation . this neurosurgeon has treated rachel since the accident.

>> a good number of patients who suffer these type of injuries potentially are left either dead or with significant neurological injuries.

>> in an injury like the one rachel suffered, the spine cord is dangerously close to being suffered, just coughing could rupture it.

>> the head is only attached to the neck via soft tissue and skin. movement one way or the other can lead to the spinal cord becoming injured.

>> reporter: rachel underwent surgery to put screws in her neck and remained in a coma for nearly a month. when she woke up, she had no memory of the accident.

>> the first memory i had, i just remember being held in such peace that everything was going to be okay, i was going to be okay.

>> reporter: with her parents by her side, rachel fights through eight hours of physical and occupational therapy every day, even a year later.

>> i look at that, that's not me.

>> how well she has done has really being nothing short of amazing and spectacular.

>> and rachel bailey joins us this morning. nice to see you.

>> nice to see you, too.

>> was it hard to watch that for you?

>> you know, it is what it is. i can't change it. you can't ever change the past, only the future.

>> okay. this is just a remarkable story. you've been through so much. how are you feeling right now?

>> i feel good. i go to therapy about eight hours a day, monday through thursday. and i feel good. my energy level is high. i'm ready to take on the world.

>> that's fantastic. physical therapist , occupational therapist as well. tell me about your team. how many people are involved in team bailey here?

>> oh, gosh. i have a little over 40 doctors. i have two different occupational therapists , two different speech therapists. two different physical therapists . i've got my own neuropsychologist, my own psychiatrist. it's just an unbelievable amount of people.

>> and then your parents.

>> my parents.

>> your friends.

>> yep.

>> and i'm sure you've gotten a ton of support from people that have heard about your story.

>> i have had the best support ever that anyone can ever dream of.

>> clearly, we're seeing you, you know, happy right now and really on the road to recovery, but there have been some dark times , i'm sure, ever since the accident. what's been the toughest thing about the recovery for you?

>> the toughest thing about the recovery has been just that isolation and loneliness. i was working as a personal trainer at the time, and so i was very active and around a lot of people, and then going from that to just by yourself 24 hours a day was the hardest.

>> you mentioned you were a personal trainer before the accident. doctors called this miraculous that you not only survived, but did as well as you did. you say it's because you had so much muscle and you were so strong that you were able to recover and to keep your head on? am i saying that correctly?

>> well, how i would describe it was the muscles surrounding my neck were incredibly strong, and then i had the training to do the physical therapy myself. i only had a few sessions of outpatient therapy, so i had to recover myself.

>> what you're going through right now, this recovery hours and hours a day, it's so hard. what is it that keeps you motivated?

>> my faith keeps me motivated, and thr grounded. what i got from this whole accident is to live is to give. so if i'm not a giving back, if i'm not volunteering at the hospital that saved my life, i'm not living at all.

>> well, rachel , your story is so inspiring.

>> thank you.

>> thank you so much for sharing with us and for being here. we wish you all the best as you continue to recover.

>> thank you very much. great to be here.

>> we're going to train sometime when you get healthy again, okay? you and i are going to hit the gym one day. promise me.

>> all right. are you ready?

>> not quite. i heard how you were certified. you are pretty strong. we'll keep the promise.

>> all right.

>> rachel bailey, thank you again