It’s a startling fact that as many as 1,000 spinal cord injuries occur each year due to shallow water diving. With swimming pools officially opening nationwide this Memorial Day weekend, millions of American families need to “think first” before diving in for some summer fun. According to the ThinkFirst National Injury Prevention Foundation and the North American Spine Society, 90 percent of all diving injuries cause a spinal cord injury and result in paralysis, specifically quadriplegia. Well-known television and film actress, Brooke Burns, was in the lucky 10 percent and narrowly avoided paralysis after sustaining a diving injury last November. Burns misjudged depth while diving into her backyard swimming pool and hit the bottom, resulting in a broken neck – a near fatal injury. The 28-year-old actress and mother credits her friend, a paramedic fireman, for saving her life by immobilizing her and floating her in the pool until additional paramedics arrived. Burns underwent extensive surgery and since has made a full recovery.
“If anyone else had tried to move me, I would have been paralyzed,” explains Burns. “I feel like I have been given a second chance. I want to help others ‘think first’ before diving into a pool or lake to prevent these types of life-changing accidents. I know I’m in a very fortunate minority and hope my story inspires both adults and children to be more careful.”
Nearly 1,000 spinal cord injuries occur each year in the U.S. when persons, predominantly males aged 15-25 years, dive into swimming pools or natural bodies of water. The vast majority of diving injuries occur in 6 feet of water or less.
Burns has teamed up with ThinkFirst and NASS to raise awareness and helped develop these “top 10” tips for diving injury prevention, which can be also found at www.thinkfirst.org and www.spine.org.
1. ALWAYS know the depth of water before you dive. When in doubt, test the water before diving by wading or walking into the water feet first. Remember “feet first, first time.”
2. Don’t dive into shallow, open water. Three out of four diving injuries happen in lakes, rivers, oceans and other natural bodies of water. Be aware that water depths are affected by tides, droughts, floods, etc. These conditions can also mean dangerous underwater debris.
3. NEVER swim or dive alone, always do it with a buddy. Brooke Burns avoided catastrophic injury because a friend was nearby and called for medical help.
4. Never dive into an aboveground pool or into the shallow end of a pool. ThinkFirst recommends water be at least 11 feet deep for safe diving from the side of a pool or deck.
5. Don’t dive from rooftops, balconies, ledges, fences, retaining walls, ladders, slides or other pool equipment.
6. To dive safely, hold your head and arms up and steer with your hands. Keep your arms extended over your head during the dive.
7. Don’t dive off the side of a diving board – dive straight ahead and test the diving board for its spring before using.
8. Don’t run and dive. Don’t do a back dive.
9. NEVER drink and dive. According to ThinkFirst, more than half of all serious diving incidents occur when the diver has been drinking. Diving requires clear thinking to judge distance and depth, monitor speed and direction, and coordinate body movements.
10. Always make sure children are supervised by an adult while diving and swimming.
If you suspect that someone has sustained a spinal cord injury from a shallow water dive, contact 911 immediately. Approach the victim carefully. Hold the victim’s head in alignment with his or her back and gently turn them onto their back so they can breathe. If possible, have others assist you. Keep the victim’s head and back stabilized and support them with something sturdy (pool equipment, ring buoy, oar, etc.) Most important, do not move a diving victim from the water until the emergency medical team arrives, as movement can cause further damage to the spinal cord.
“We are so thankful that Brooke Burns fully recovered from her diving incident and is partnering with ThinkFirst and the North American Spine Society to help others avoid life-threatening diving injuries,” said Joel Press, MD, NASS president and medical director at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago’s Spine and Sports Rehabilitation Center.
“As summer nears, it’s critical that parents talk to their children and teens about the real risk of diving injury and share these important tips,” added David Cavanaugh, MD, ThinkFirst chair and neurosurgeon in Shreveport, LA.
The North American Spine Society (NASS) is a multidisciplinary organization that advances quality spine care through education, research and advocacy. NASS members are MDs, DOs and PhDs in 22 spine-related specialties including orthopedics, neurosurgery, physiatry, pain management and other disciplines. Nurse practitioners, physician’s assistants, chiropractors, physical therapists, practice administrators and other allied health care professionals involved in spine care are also represented in NASS as affiliate members.
Last Updated ( Monday, 29 May 2006 )