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Increase in spinal cord injuries during the summer

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There’s a growing risk of spinal cord injuries. Austin doctors say the summer months pose the biggest threat.

Jared Dunten, 35, became paralyzed from the neck down during a summer vacation trip in April of 2000

“Sometimes it seems like it’s been forever….sometimes it doesn’t seem like long at all,” said Dunten.

He dove into the Rio Grande River.

“I was a 25 year old idiot who had just gotten out of college, started working was on my first paid vacation,” said Dunten.

The water was low. Dunten hit the bottom and broke his spine. He spent nearly a year in the hospital.

“In the beginning there was a lot of ‘Oh you’re never going to move anything again. You’re totally paralyzed and you’re going to remain that way the rest of your life,’” said Dunten.

Dunten vowed to move again. He plastered the story of his accident and his recovery through the years to the walls of the Bass Concert Hall. Each painting is a glimpse at his recovery. Some of them Dunten painted himself. Since he still can’t use his hands he uses his mouth to move the brush.

The paintings stimulate his spirit; while rehabilitation bikes stimulate his muscles. He rides 30 to 60 miles a week.

“I’ve gotten significantly stronger. I’ve had some return in biceps and triceps and that kind of stuff,” said Dunten.

He used the bike first in 2004 during a medical trial at the Brain and Spine Center of Austin. In the beginning he could only ride for 5 seconds.

When that trial ended doctors here at the Brain and Spine Center say Dunten asked if he could continue using the bike. They said he couldn’t, because the trial was over. He asked them to find a way. They did and they created an entire rehabilitation gym for the patients at the center.

Now up to 24 spinal cord injury patients use the gym every week. The waiting list to get in is even longer.

“We see anywhere close to 100-150 spinal cord injuries a year here,” said Craig Kemper, M.D. Brain & Spine Center of Austin, “We brace ourselves every year. We know (that) it’s coming.”

Kemper says most spinal cord injuries happen during the summer months in part because more people head to the lake. Many because of diving accidents like Dunten’s.

“It’s a big, big problem. It seems silly,” said Dunten.

His attitude however is serious. The last piece on his mural is his promise to walk again. He’s looking forward to adult stem cell research. The Brain and Spine Center may begin participating in a clinical trial as soon as next year.

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