Home / Health / The Doctor Is In: Freddie Gray couldn't sever his own spine

The Doctor Is In: Freddie Gray couldn't sever his own spine

Freddie Gray is pictured being arrested by Baltimore police on April 12. Later, Gray can be seen being dragged by the cops into the van, and it seems as though he was already unable to walk.

Freddie Gray is pictured being arrested by Baltimore police on April 12. Later, Gray can be seen being dragged by the cops into the van, and it seems as though he was already unable to walk.

Is it possible that Freddie Gray could have severed his own spine and crushed his own voicebox?

From a medical standpoint, it is unlikely that the 25-year-old Baltimore man injured himself in the back of that van. The severity of his injuries seem too grave for him to have done that to himself simply by thrashing around or banging his head on something.

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It is more likely that there was some type of direct blow to either the front or back of his neck, or somewhere along the spinal cord along his back.

Freddie Gray, pictured in a hospital bed after being arrested by Baltimore City Police, died from injuries sustained while in custody.Family Handout

Freddie Gray, pictured in a hospital bed after being arrested by Baltimore City Police, died from injuries sustained while in custody.

How does a spinal cord injury happen? A spinal cord injury is “damage to the spinal cord that results in a loss of function such as mobility or feeling.” This type of injury is most often caused by a traumatic blow of the kind that would be sustained in a car accident, severe fall or an act of violence.

There must be a sudden, traumatic blow to the spine that fractures, dislocates, crushes or compresses one or more of the vertebrae, or when a gun shot or knife penetrates the spinal cord. After a spinal cord injury, bleeding, inflammation and swelling occurs, and fluid builds up in and around the spinal cord.

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Title treatment for Dr. David Samadi's column, "The Doctor Is In"

The medical evidence that’s apparent does not seem to confirm a contention that Freddie Gray severed his own spinal cord in the back of a Baltimore police van on April 12, Dr. David Samadi says.

Without immediate treatment, this can lead to permanent paralysis, or in Gray’s case, death. Baltimore police officers have already been suspended for failing to get Gray prompt medical care.

The higher in the back or neck the spinal cord injury occurs, the more dysfunction a person will have as a result. So with a spinal cord injury that occurs from a blow to the neck, a person usually loses function in the arms and legs.

The Washington Post on Wednesday obtained testimony allegedly given by another prisoner who was in the van with Gray, who said he may have injured himself during the ride in the back of the van to the police station.

The man said he could hear Gray “banging against the walls” of the van and believed that he “was intentionally trying to injure himself,” according to a police document quoted by the newspaper. They were separated by a metal partition, and the man did not actually see Gray trying to harm himself.

The severity of his injuries seem too grave for him to have done that to himself simply by thrashing around or banging his head on something.

As seen in a video taken by a witness who saw Gray being put into the back of the van, Gray was being dragged by the cops into the van, and it seems as though he was unable to walk.

The ability to control your limbs after a spinal cord injury depends on where along the spinal cord the injury took place, and how severe the injury is. If Gray was showing signs of loss of function in his legs before being put in the van, how could the injury have taken place in the van?

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Freddie Gray died on April 19 while in police custody in Baltimore. He died of a severed spinal cord, an injury he suffered while in police custody, and he also sustained a crushed larynx.Jamiea Speller

Freddie Gray died on April 19 while in police custody in Baltimore. He died of a severed spinal cord, an injury he suffered while in police custody, and he also sustained a crushed larynx.

There are a number of signs and symptoms that can occur very shortly after a person suffers a spinal injury. These include extreme back pain, pressure in the neck, head or back, weakness, loss of coordination or paralysis in any part of the body, as well as difficulty with balance and walking, impaired breathing after injury and oddly positioned or twisted neck or back.

As seen on the video, Gray was clearly in pain, screaming that he was hurt, and could not walk. He was also having trouble breathing because he kept asking for his inhaler.

***

Now, let’s talk about the crushed larynx. Also known as a laryngotracheal injury, a crushed larynx is pretty rare in adults, except when there is blunt force trauma to the front of the neck, such as strangulation, or blows to the trachea from fists or feet.

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This is usually caused by a car accident when the passenger does not have a seatbelt on, in the front seat, or driving, and there are no protective airbags.

In this case, the person in the front seat or driver is thrown forward and the front of the neck either hits the dashboard or steering wheel.

The direct blow to the front of the neck crushes the larynx against the spine of the neck. This type of injury can also occur during sports, fights, falling forward onto a blunt object such as the handle bars of a bicycle, or during strangulation. Depending on the severity of the impact, the larynx and trachea can compress against the spine.

Is it possible that Gray’s larynx was crushed first, causing the spinal cord injury? Maybe that caused the spinal cord injury. In order for this to happen, there would have to have been a direct blow to the front of his neck, which is unlikely to have been a self-imposed injury in the back of the van.

This could also explain why Gray had trouble breathing. If the blow to the front of the neck is severe and/or low, the larynx and trachea can become completely separated, causing airway obstruction and difficulty breathing.

With this type of injury, the neck must be immediately stabilized to prevent worsening of unrecognized cervical spine injuries. Gray allegedly asked for medical attention multiple times, yet he did not receive it until after he arrived at the police station, where he was found unconscious in the back of the van.

It is unclear which injury happened first, or whether one caused the other, but it seems clear that there was nearly no way he caused the fatal injuries himself.

Dr. Samadi is a board-certified urologic oncologist trained in open and traditional and laparoscopic surgery, and an expert in robotic prostate surgery. He is chairman of urology, chief of robotic surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital and professor of urology at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine. He is a medical correspondent for the Fox News Channel’s Medical A-Team and the chief medical correspondent for am970 in New York City, where he is heard Sundays at 10 a.m.

Learn more at roboticoncology.com and SamadiMD.com. Follow Dr. Samadi on Twitter and Facebook.

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