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Most diving accidents preventable, says St. Michael’s neurosurgeon

Toronto, August 16, 2011

Dr. Michael Cusimano Dr. Michael Cusimano

By Leslie Shepherd

St. Michael’s Hospital has seen a sharp increase this summer in the number of people who have suffered preventable diving accidents that have left them paraplegics or quadriplegics.

Seven people, most in their 20s and 30s, have been treated at St. Michael’s for diving-related spinal cord injuries since May, compared to one per year for the last decade, said Dr. Michael Cusimano, a neurosurgeon and director of the hospital’s Injury Prevention Research Centre.

“The tragedy is that these accidents are totally preventable and often associated with alcohol,” said Dr. Cusimano. “Too many people are not aware of the risks of diving into a lake or a pool when the depth is unknown or diving when they have been drinking.”

Dr. Cusimano said the accidents have all involved people diving into lakes or pools head first and hitting their heads. He said the increase in numbers this summer could be related to the good weather, which means more people are spending time on the water.

Before diving in unfamiliar pools, lakes or rivers, people should check to make sure the water is deep enough and whether there are rocks, tree trunks or other submerged objects, he said. The depth of the water should be at least twice the height of the diver and a minimum of nine feet.

“Know the water and the underlying risks such as rocks,” he said. “Always go into the water feet first the first time, not head first. And whatever you are doing on or near the water, remember that alcohol use and fun on the water shouldn’t be mixed.”

Other safety points to remember when enjoying the water:

  • Make sure there is enough light to see what you are doing
  • No pushing
  • Always do water sports with a companion and never leave children alone
  • Learn to dive safely
  • Never dive into the shallow end of the pool
  • Never dive into unfamiliar bodies of water
  • Dive only in well-marked and well-supervised environments that are designated for diving
  • Never dive into an above-ground pool – they are not designed for diving.
  • Never run and dive
  • Never dive from retaining walls, ladders, slides or other pool equipment.
  • When diving from a diving board, always dive from the end and not the sides
  • Never dive through objects such as inner tubes
  • Do not go down slides head first
  • Never drink alcohol and dive or swim

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