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Headless Reporter Continues Work
March 4, 2005
NEW YORK--ABC news magazine "20/20" reporter John Stossel, accidentally decapitated late last month while shooting a segment "debunking the myth of wind power," returns to the air Wednesday in a special interview with 20/20 anchor Barbara Walters. "It's really an amazing story," explains Walters. "Most people wouldn't even survive decapitation, let alone have the guts, the determination, to keep doing their jobs. It's a real triumph of the human spirit."
Injured during the filming of "Oil is Good Food," a series of reports looking skeptically at the promise of "alternative energy," Stossel was struck when the 73-foot fiberglass blade of a wind turbine began to rotate unexpectedly. "I've never seen anything like it," recalls ABC cameraman Josh Eager. "John wanted to get a shot on this platform right in front of the blades there, just to dramatize that, you know, the wind isn't always blowing enough to turn the things and make power when Wham! it just took his head right off. I never did see where it landed."
Emergency personnel responding to the accident were astounded to find that, despite the loss of a significant amount of blood, Stossel appeared conscious and responsive. "It was really the quick thinking of the camera crew that saved him," noted a paramedic on the scene. "Somebody had some training and knew how to tie off the major arteries. That's what kept him alive."
Doctors at a nearby Madison, Wisconsin hospital responded quickly to the unusual injury with a novel surgical procedure. "I had never before seen a survivor of decapitation, so we all had questions about how to proceed," explains Dr. Margery Welppe, leader of the surgical team. "My training lead me to consider reattachment, but no head had been recovered. There also seemed no real possibility of a transplant of any sort, so we improvised, closing the vascular circuits and trying to close the neck as best we could."
Medical explanation for Stossel's survival remains vague and uncertain, though several experts point to the reporter's "enteric nervous system" or "gut brain" as the possible source of his continued vitality.
The enteric system, a complex network of nerves located in and around the intestines of all mammals and long thought to control digestive processes, is known to make use of nearly all of the neuronal processes previously thought exclusive to the brain. "It's true that the enteric system is much more complex that has been traditionally thought," explains Professor Hillary Rind of the Harvard Medical School. "But, at least until now, nobody imagined it capable of assuming responsibility for the higher order functions of personality and rational thought."
Talking to reporters through a vocoder linked to special "contact microphones" affixed to his neck, Stossel explained his reasons for returning to work so quickly after such a traumatic injury: "The wool is being pulled over our eyes by so-called 'environmentalist' do-gooders and I'm determined to put a stop to it. Did you know that wind power is millions of times more wasteful than oil or coal? Do you know how much wind just goes to waste without producing one volt? People talk all about the dangers of nuclear power, but what about the dangers of solar power? The sun is responsible for tens of thousands of cases of skin cancer each year. How much cancer do you think has been linked to nuclear power?"
Responding angrily to questions about his decision to forego use of a prosthetic head, Stossel noted that he felt no embarrassment about being headless and that colleagues at ABC agreed that he has done some of his best work in years since the accident: "Do I wish it hadn't happened? Sure. Am I any less of a reporter just because I haven't got a head? No way."
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