Spinal Cord Injury Patients Help U-M Effort To Prevent Diving Injuries

Matt Kerry was built burly and strong, primed for athletic success, and recruited heavily to play football on a college scholarship.

But one summer day on a Michigan lake, he made a split-second decision that thwarted a future as bright as the sun reflecting off the waves. The 6-foot-2, 240-pound young man dove into three feet of water. Hit the bottom, head first.

Now Matt needs help with the kind of things most people take for granted, like eating or just getting dressed. The 20-year-old former high school athletic star continues to fight every day to cope with the injury that left him paralyzed.

Matt, a Dearborn, Mich. resident, is featured in an award-winning video “Shattered Dreams,” commissioned by the University of Michigan’s Department of Neurosurgery as part of an injury prevention effort. Public service announcements based on the video begin airing in southeastern Michigan movie theatres June 4 to spread the message of “feet first” to boaters and swimmers.

The video also features 32-year-old Josh Weber, a resident of Manitou Beach, Mich., who also suffered a spinal cord injury after a diving incident. He was a carpenter, an active golfer and swimmer.

“Just think if you could never get out of a seat, think if you woke up in the morning and couldn’t get yourself out of bed,” Weber says in the video. “You really need to think about your actions because your life can change in a split-second. It kind of opens up your eyes and you understand that life is fragile.”

“Our neurosurgery team here at U-M knows how heartbreaking spinal cord injuries can be,” said Karin Muraszko, chair of the University of Michigan’s Department of Neurosurgery and chief of pediatric neurosurgery.

“We can provide these patients with top-notch, state-of-the-art care, but we’d much rather they are not hurt to begin with. We can’t put the spinal cord back together.

“So the best thing we can do is prevent these injuries. That’s why our department decided to make this video and spread the word.”

Each year, about 6,000 young people under the age of 14 are hospitalized because of a diving injury. One in five of those will suffer a severe spinal cord injury.

Shawn Hervey-Jumper, M.D., a U-M neurosurgery resident, says diving injuries are preventable, and stresses it is important to be cautious around the water. Don’t roughhouse around the water. If you are unfamiliar with the water, and unaware of its depth or sand bar locations, always jump in feet first.

“Spinal cord injuries can occur whether you hit the bottom or not, so the surface tension on the water can be enough to injure the spinal cord,” Hervey-Jumper says.

The spinal cord, which has the consistency of firm jello, is there to transmit the signal from your brain to a muscle, Hervey-Jumper says. When the injury happens, the message from the brain is blocked.

“We can’t fix those nerves when they are injured. They are permanently damaged,” he added.

The “Shattered Dreams” video was created and produced by West Bloomfield-based Evolution Media. It has won several awards, including the 2009 MarCom Award, 2009 Cine Golden Eagle and the 2010 Telly Award. It can be purchased for $39.95 (plus tax and shipping) through Evolution Media by calling 248-539-4610.

The airing of the 30-second public service announcements is planned to continue throughout the summer and is funded by the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital Golf Classic and the Department of Neurosurgery’s Motor City Golf Classic.

“I would give a lot to take back the moment if I could rewind and re-do it over. I’d give almost anything,” says Kerry.

“Don’t think it couldn’t happen to you. It could happen to anyone,” Weber says.

Source: University of Michigan Health System

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