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Last August, Chase Jones, 28 year old University of Georgia graduate and a Government Affairs Officer with the Georgia Public Safety Training Center, broke three vertebrae in a diving accident that left him paralyzed from the shoulders down. Jones hopes to eventually return to work. But he’s spent the last year focusing on rehabilitation. He has regained some movement in his arms, hands, and neck. But still requires a lift to move from his bed to the motorized wheelchair that he uses to get around everyday.

As the summertime approaches, he cautions others who may be considering diving into a pool, lake, or waterway. Jones explains that he had been diving in that same place his whole life. But shifting rocks and sand, and other changing conditions create diving hazards.

That same summer, Austin Whitten was paralyzed from his upper chest. The recent high school graduate decided to go for a swim in his friends above the ground pool. After an unintentional belly flop, Whitten realized he could not move his arms. Whitten suffered from a broken neck and spent several months in the hospital. He warns others not to dive unless they see a sign allowing them to do so.

Sporting and recreational activities account for 16 percent of spinal cord injuries in the U.S.

According to the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sporting and recreational activities account for 16 percent of all spinal cord injuries in the United States. A 2005 study by the University of Alabama’s Birmingham National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center found that approximately 3 to 5 percent of spinal cord injuries were specifically attributed to diving accidents.

Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, specializes in the medical treatment, research, and rehabilitation of individuals who have suffered from spinal cord or brain injuries. Bridget Metzger, Director of Injury Prevention and Education at Shepherd Center, explains that diving related accidents usually fly under the radar. However, she cautions that when they do occur, diving related accidents are commonly significant and catastrophic. Diving related accidents are the fourth most common cause of spinal cord injuries at the facility, with males comprising 80 percent of spinal cord injuries from diving.

Spinal cord injuries are not only physically and emotionally damaging, they are also costly. Medical expenses and the cost of living for the first year of paralysis can range between $750,000 and $1 million. The exact costs vary depending on the severity of the injury.

Experts suggest that divers jump in the first time, in order to gain familiarity with the pool, lake or waterway and to figure out the water’s depth. In addition, they caution against consuming alcohol or diving into murky waters.

If you or a loved one have suffered a spinal cord injury, you should contact an attorney immediately.

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