teenager Chris Stewart is one of just five people in the world to
survive a virtual decapitation – and the only one who has EVER walked again.
And even more incredibly, the 13-year-old, who suffered his horrific
injury in a motor racing accident, recovered in just five months — with
the help of Spice Girls hits.
The Stewart family’s nightmare began one day last September when they were enjoying their favourite pastime.
Mum Debbie recalls: “Chris was a big fan of motor racing and had
been doing it for about two years. He raced a 1,000cc Mini which has
been specially modified. There are no windows or dashboard, it is
basically a shell.
“Racing was his passion and it was a real family event for us. Me
and my partner used to go with his two sons, and Chris’s dad came and
helped him with any repairs that needed to be done.
“That day Chris had come first and second in the first two races. He
was just doing the last race of the day and then we were going to have
As they watched Chris speed round the track, the family shouted with excitement as he took the lead on the final lap.
But suddenly the youngster lost control and his car ploughed into the corrugated iron surrounding the track at 35mph.
Debbie, from Fareham, Hants, recalls: “With my heart thumping I
reached the car seconds after my ex-husband and could see my lovely boy
slumped over the wheel.
||“The sight will never leave me – it was horrifying. He was unconscious and there was blood coming from his mouth.|
“Seconds later, two paramedics from the St John Ambulance were there and they acted straight away.
“Chris was coming round slightly and the paramedic had to get into the back of the race car and secure my son’s neck.
|Hurt ... in hospital after horror crash|
“He held Chris’s neck for an hour and a half — if it had moved
within three millimetres of this position he would have certainly been
“I was told to get on to the car bonnet and keep Chris talking. I had tears in my eyes but I had to keep him positive.
“Throughout all of this the firemen were cutting Chris out of the
car, while a man from the track was lying beneath it to stabilise it,
putting his own life at risk to get him out.
“After 90 minutes Chris was free, and a flying doctor had him strapped to a spinal board within seconds.
“At the hospital the doctor took me to one side and said Chris had
received terrible injuries in the crash including a broken shoulder.
“He told me Chris had severed every bone and ligament in his neck.
“He had almost been decapitated and all that was holding his head to his shoulders was his skin.
“This was such a distressing image that I burst into tears. I started imagining what his life would be like if he survived.
Would he be paralysed? Would he be severely disabled?
“It was all too much and I just fell into my partner’s arms.”
|Happy family ... with mum Debbie, her partner John|
and brother and sister Patrick and Sophie
Debbie remembers the first time she saw Chris in hospital: “Entering
the intensive care unit was the hardest thing I have ever had to do.
Seeing my little boy hooked up to machines was dreadful.
“But the nurses were incredible. They told me straight away, very
gently, that I should bring Chris’s brother and sister in to see him
because he was really poorly and there was a strong chance he might not
So Debbie took daughter Sophie, seven, and nine-year-old son Patrick
to see Chris and recalls: “The nurses told them Chris was very poorly
but they were going to give him an operation and hoped to fix him.
After this Chris was taken into theatre and I kissed him on the
forehead, hoping it wasn’t the last time I could kiss my little lad.”
The operation was a pioneering procedure in which cartilage was
taken from Chris’s hip and grafted on to his neck to bind his head to
The op took six hours, 90 minutes of which involved
painstakingly moving him from lying his back to his front. This was the
most dangerous part of the operation because if the spinal cord was
twisted it could kill him instantly.
||Debbie says: “Afterwards the doctor told us
Chris had pulled through. I couldn’t stop the tears of joy. I felt
blessed. The doctor told me he had never seen such an extreme injury
that wasn’t on the mortician’s slab.|
“Even so, not knowing the extent of his injuries was dreadful. We
didn’t know if he would ever be the same again or whether he would ever
be able to walk.”
After the surgery Chris was taken off sedation but was still
ventilated. As he opened his eyes his mum told him to blink if he knew
who she was.
Debbie says: “When he blinked his eyes I was over the moon – this was a sign that he was not brain-damaged.”
A gruelling schedule of more than 100 hours of physiotherapy was
needed to make sure Chris regained his co-ordination and movement.
|Miracle ... an X-ray of Chris's neck showing surgical head supports and, right, boy racer Chris poses by his mini|
Debbie says: “The exercises were really tough and his poor body had
been through so much that he didn’t want to get out of his hospital bed.
“We used to have to play the Spice Girls to get him up and about.
“Chris’s injuries were so terrible that the neck muscles had
stretched and the muscles in his eyes had lost all tone, which left his
eyes crossed and his vision blurred.
“With work by the physiotherapists on his face muscles the tone came back and his eyesight returned to normal very quickly.
“Unfortunately his tongue had been bitten through and this took away
the ability to swallow without forethought, but this is a condition
that will improve with practice.”
Rather than focus on what he cannot do, Chris remains positive about
the future. Although motor sports are off the agenda for ever, driving
will not be a problem.
Debbie says: “Chris is a positive lad.
This accident has left him with problems. For example he can’t do
contact sports like football so he will spend time on his bike instead.
Chris is about solutions. He is so positive.”
And despite a total of five months of missed time at Neville Lovett
School, determined Chris is still top of the class in all his subjects.
Debbie admits: “Going back to school was a very big deal for me,
bigger than it was for Chris. I just wanted to be able to keep him safe.
“Last week was the first time that he went to school on his bike with his mates. I can’t describe how proud that makes me.
“Although my little lad is quiet and shy, we all know that he has an enormous amount of courage.”