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A Heads-Up on Headfirst Dives

Heads-Up on Headfirst Dives
Wis.— How low will you go?
            You’d better know the answer if
you’re diving headfirst into water. Not knowing the depth of the lake, river or
even backyard pool can lead to disaster in an instant – the kind of disaster
that changes lives forever.
Dr. Greg Rebella, assistant
professor of emergency medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of
Medicine and Public Health, saw this for himself several years before he started
his medical career when a diving injury left his close friend a quadriplegic at
age 19.
“The real tragedy is the
personal loss of the ability to function independently,” he says. “Spinal cord
injuries from diving accidents can be devastating on many levels and nearly 100
percent avoidable by exercising good judgment.”
 According to the National
Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Database, most diving injuries involve males in
their twenties. Other key statistics show:
·        Most diving injuries
occurred in private residential pools.
·        Three-fourths of the
individuals said they were not familiar with the depth of the water before
·        Seventy percent of the
injuries happened after a headfirst dive and 94 percent occurred when there was
no lifeguard or supervision available.
Rebella says people who
want to dive into a body of water or swimming pool should know the depth of the
water first, and to be safe, jump in feet first.
“You are asking for trouble
if you dive headfirst into any body of water where you don’t know the depth,” he
says. “When you jump in feet first, you have the ability to decrease
acceleration by landing on your legs. When you dive headfirst, everything is
going down on the top of the head or flexing the neck.”
Rebella says the National
Federation of State High School Associations has joined in the effort to reduce
head injuries from dives by making it illegal for competitive swimmers to jump
into water less than three and a half feet during all high school swimming and
diving meets.
“This is pretty
wide-reaching when you consider the number of high school kids involved in
swimming,” he says. “It’s just a matter of using common sense to keep high
school athletes safe.”
Lynne Sears, trauma program
coordinator at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics, says alcohol
provides an added danger.
“Consumption of alcohol
takes away your ability to think clearly,” she says. “If you don’t know the area
well, you may end up hitting your head on a big boulder, losing consciousness
and drowning.”
Rebella says it’s important
for parents to educate young children about water safety, and see to it the area
has adequate supervision.
“Parents can help prevent
serious injuries by teaching their kids how to play safely in the water and do
the right thing,” he says. “It’s also the parents’ responsibility to know the
depth of the pool, instruct their children not to dive headfirst, and find out
if someone will be there to watch over their children. They have to reinforce
the need for water safety, especially when their kids are young.”
Other injuries caused by
ill-advised headfirst dives into shallow waters include serious lacerations,
bruises and broken teeth.
“I’ve had kids come in with
chin and forehead lacerations after playing at a water park,” says
Rebella. “Your child is risking injury any time he or she jumps into an area not
known to be deep. I would say those patients were lucky because they could have
sustained more serious injuries.”