Accessibility links

Breaking News

Woman is Recovering from Rare Decapitation Injury

Debbie Greitzer started out the year with a thriving musical career and her family at her side. Then, she was nearly killed in a car accident. Now, she is recovering from a rare injury.

World-class bassoonist Debbie Greitzer was in a car accident in January that left her internally decapitated. That is, all of the ligaments connecting her skull to her backbone were severed.

Ms. Greitzer's husband, Jeff Silberschlag, and their two children, Zachary and Nathanial, were scared for their wife and mother. "There was a real likelihood that Debbie might not make it. I spoke with Zach first and he said, 'Is Mom going to die?' And I said, 'Zach, I don't know.' "

Dr. Zachary Levine is the neurosurgeon at the Washington Hospital Center that treated Ms. Greitzer. "None of the other organs were injured; the spinal cord wasn't injured, the major vessels of her neck weren't injured, but all the ligaments that bind the skull to her neck were compromised."

Dr. Levine was able to reattach Ms. Greitzer's skull to her spine by connecting two titanium rods placed on either side of her backbone to a plate at the base of her skull.

Debbie says, "On one hand, I'm so, so grateful, absolutely so grateful to be here, but I'm also very aware of what I cannot do at this time."

The next step in Ms. Greitzer's road to recovery is physical therapy. The pain in her neck when she stands or sits for too long makes it impossible for her to play the bassoon.

"I have so much gratitude to be able to do what I'm able to do. To be able to walk; to be able to talk; to be able to raise my kids," says the mother and musician.

Her children are thankful for their mother's safe return.

Zachary Silberschlag, Debbie’s son, says "It's a long process and we need to be there to help her and I'm glad she's here and able to do things with us."

Even though Ms. Greitzer can no longer perform, music will continue to come from Ms. Greitzer's home. Her eldest son, Zachary, plays the trumpet and Nathanial plays the the French horn.