June 6, 2003
Divers should take precautions this summer
By Lisa Uzzle Gates
Health and Research News Service
JACKSON—Mississippi has already seen the first diving accidents of the year, and it’s likely there will be more as the weather heats up.
But that doesn’t have to be the case, says Lauren Fairburn, Think First coordinator for Methodist Rehabilitation Center. Think First, the hospital’s statewide injury prevention program, covers a variety of safety topics in school assemblies across the state. Careful diving and swimming are components of the Think First message.
“We always tell children feet first, first time. That means they should walk into the water to make sure it’s deep enough,” Fairburn said. “If you are swimming in a creek or lake, you should check the depth and make sure there are no rocks or logs, or other objects, you could strike your head on. You have to check it every time you go swimming, especially with a natural body of water because the conditions can change.”
“We suggest no diving, but if you are going to do it make sure you check the depth the first time,” said Ellen Lee, spinal cord injury program director at Methodist Rehab. “So many people in Mississippi swim in creeks and lakes and the depth changes from season to season. And you just never know what’s under the water.”
Diving accidents account for about 10 percent of all spinal cord injuries each year and about 60 percent of recreational spinal cord injuries. The damage occurs at a high level on the spinal cord, usually the neck, and that carries with it a higher level of paralysis and more complications.
“Generally it does result in a more severe level of injury,” Lee said. “Most of the time this results in quadriplegia and the higher the injury, of course, the more complicated it becomes.” In addition to paralysis of the hands, arms and legs, this type of injury can include respiratory problems ranging from temporary to permanent dependence on a ventilator.
These accidents can also include brain injuries—either from the initial blow, or loss of oxygen to the brain immediately after the injury while the person is still underwater.
There are a lot of variables to consider when diving. Each pool and natural body of water is different, but keep in mind these general tips:
- Go in slowly and feet first the first time. Preferably every time.
- The American Red Cross recommends having at least 9 feet of water if you are diving from the side of a pool and at least 12 feet if you are diving from a board.
- Adults should check the water before allowing children to go in.
- Check natural bodies of water for brambles, rubbish, and muddy bottoms in which a person can be trapped or caught..
So many of the injuries treated at Methodist Rehabilitation Center are the result of accidents that could have been prevented with some simple precautions, Fairburn said. “That’s the premise of Think First—simple measures anyone can take, even young children, to protect themselves.”
Methodist Rehabilitation Center’s injury prevention program, is aimed at young children and teenagers and tries to prevent spinal cord, brain and other traumatic injuries by focusing on bicycle, automobile, firearm, boat, swimming and diving safety.
Physicians and staff at the Jackson hospital work closely with firefighters, police officers, paramedics and other health care workers to encourage children to always think first about safety and injury prevention.
For more information:
Think First's aim: Prevent diving injuries | The Clarion-Ledger