Indian-origin doc saves Briton whose head was ripped from spine

A British man who had his head ripped off from his spine in a car crash has survived, a media report said on Sunday.
Updated on May 25, 2015 12:22 AM IST
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Hindustan Times | By, London

A British man who had his head ripped off from his spine in a car crash has survived, a media report said on Sunday.

Indian-origin neuro-surgeon Anant Kamat re-attached Tony Cowan's skull to his spine with a metal plate and bolts in a rare operation. Now, Cowan hopes to go home soon, Mirror online reported.

Tony Cowan from Newcastle city met with an accident on September 9 last year, when his car hit a speed-bump, spun out of control and wrapped around a telephone pole.

His heart stopped and he had to be resuscitated by paramedics at the scene before being rushed to a hospital. Cowan sustained a fracture in his neck and complete spinal cord injury -- an injury medics describe as almost "unsurvivable".

He was not brain-damaged even though his head was snapped off from his spine and it was only being held in place by tissue and muscle at the time of crash.In a rare operation, an Indian-origin neurosurgeon reattached the skull of a British man to his spine after a horrific car accident left him with no brain activity.

Anant Kamat, who completed his MBBS from the University of Mumbai in 1987, performed the operation on Tony Cowan, a 29-year-old bricklayer in north England’s Newcastle who was left with injuries described by specialists as almost “unsurvivable” following an accident in September last year. Cowan’s car hit a speed breaker and spun out of control to ram into a telephone pole.

He suffered a C2 fracture to his neck and complete spinal cord injury. His heart stopped and he had to be resuscitated before being rushed to hospital. Scans showed he had no brain activity but no brain damage either, even though his head had snapped off his spine.

It was being held in place only by tissue and muscle.

Just when Cowan’s partner of ten years Karen Dawson, mother Pepsi Cowan and the rest of his devastated family decided to turn off the life support and said their farewells, the 29-year-old opened his eyes and showed his will to live.

Kamat, a consultant neurosurgeon in Newcastle, reattached the skull to the spine with a metal plate and bolts. Cowan is unlikely to ever work again but has learned to communicate by blinking his eyes, mumbling some words and using a communication electric board. His family has launched an online campaign to collect 15,000 pounds to buy equipment which he will use when he returns home to a specially-adapted bungalow soon.

“Tony’s head was snapped off his spine. There was only tissue and muscle holding his head on. The consultants had to make the decision to reattach his skull to his spine with a metal plate and bolts. They had never done an operation like it before and we were informed Tony would probably not survive, but again he pulled through,” Cowan’s mother, Pepsi, 56, told the Mirror.

“We were told by medics that Tony had sustained the most cruel of injuries. They said he will never breath on his own, he will always be on life support, he will never walk, he will never eat and they said he will never talk.” Pepsi said the consultants thought her son was “a mystery and unique” and did not know how he survived the accident.

Kamat, who says “understanding the spine and its issues” has been his passion, was awarded a gold medal when he completed his MBBS from Mumbai. He has several awards, fellowships and research papers to his credit.

“I was trained in a busy multispecialty academic hospital in Mumbai. My neurosurgery department was well known in India and internationally for its contribution towards spine surgery,” Kamat said in his profile on the Newcastle hospital’s website.

“There, I acquired extensive surgical experience in managing different spinal pathologies. We organised workshops, courses and conferences to train neurosurgeons and orthopaedic surgeons in the specialised field of the spine,” he added.


    Prasun Sonwalkar was Editor (UK & Europe), Hindustan Times. During more than three decades, he held senior positions on the Desk, besides reporting from India’s north-east and other states, including a decade covering politics from New Delhi. He has been reporting from UK and Europe since 1999.

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