A former beauty queen who had a quarter of her skull removed and then stored in her stomach for six weeks after a near-fatal fishing accident has revealed her shock as she woke to find her a portion of her head missing.
Surgeons removed the rear quarter of Jamie Hilton’s skull and placed it in her abdomen, which enabled the bone to remain sterile and nourished while brain swelling from a head injury subsided.
Mrs Hilton, 36, who won Mrs. Idaho in 2009 and competed in the Mrs. America beauty contests, told the Today show: ‘I remember lifting the gown, looking down and seeing this bulge in stomach, and thinking, “Is this real?”‘
‘When I woke up, I was surrounded by family. I could feel the joy when I opened my eyes, so the feeling in the room was good before they showed me my skull,’ the mother-of-three added.
‘I’m just so grateful the moment my feet touch the ground. The mundane isn’t so mundane any more – I get make breakfast and take my kids to school. I’m so happy.’
Mrs Hilton’s skull remained in her abdomen for 42 days until it was re-attached in a successful operation and now, three months after her near death experience she has returned home, and is considered a ‘walking miracle.’
The former beauty queen’s brush with death came after she joined her husband Nick and brother-in-law Greg on a salmon fishing trip to Hell’s Canyon in Idaho in June.
As she tried to reel in her first fish she lost her footing and fell 12ft on to a boulder. Her husband scrambled down to his wife and found her unconscious, without a pulse and not breathing.
When he lifted her, Mrs Hilton began breathing again and nearby Forest Ranger called for emergency services, where she was airlifted to Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise, with severe brain swelling.
Mr Hilton said: ‘I just knew it was going to bad, I wasn’t sure if I was screaming her name out loud or in my head, but I knew I had to get her out of there as quickly as I could.’
Mrs Hilton’s family was warned that the next 72 hours would decide if she lived or died, and they took the decision to remove a quarter of her skull until the brain swelling went down.
The skull portion remained in her abdomen for 42 days until it was removed and sutured back onto its original place.
Dr Ted Schwartz, a professor of neurology at New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center explained the procedure, which allows a swollen brain to expand beyond the confines of the skull bone.