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Paralyzed woman warns of diving dangers

Posted at 5:46 PM, Jul 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-03 17:46:18-04

GRAND RAPIDS — Before you jump into the water this weekend, a warning to be extra careful.

Diving accidents are one of the leading causes of spinal cord injuries.

Jennifer Crowell is now paralyzed after her own diving accident 12 years ago and urges everyone to think twice before going head first into the water.

“I decided to dive in and there was only about a foot of water,” she said.

It was a day boating with friends on Chippewa Lake that turned into a life-altering moment for Crowell.

She said, “How I hit was like a pencil and then I just flattened out and I was just floating on top of the water, but for me it I was spinning around in circles like I was caught in an undertow.”

Crowell woke up three days later in the ICU at Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids.

“They had to fuse C4 through C7 with a titanium plate and they diagnosed me as quadriplegic. In my eyes, I thought I was a vegetable,” Crowell said.

2 months later and still on a ventilator, Crowell was moved to Mary Free Bed.

Tracy Oostema, a physical therapist and Mary Free Bed was one of several people who worked with Crowell during her recovery.

She said, “She had to relearn how to get from point A to point B, like from the bed to the wheelchair or from the wheelchair to a shower chair. It also involves learning how to groom, dress, manage their bowels and bladder and speech therapy is always highly involved too.”

Oostema said even when things seemed darkest, Crowell never gave up.

“I remember her just laughing, and having fun with the therapy and you know, just seizing the opportunity and making the most of it.”

It’s those moments that Crowell is still grateful for all these years later.

“They pushed, they didn’t stop. There were no’ feeling bad for you days,’ it was you were going to get up and you’re going to do something,” Crowell said.

After three months of therapy, Crowell was able to return home to New Hampshire. She’s now heavily involved in adaptive water sports and works as a peer mentor for others with disabilities at the only independent living center of its kind in the state.

Oostema said it’s stories like this one, that show the importance of checking your surroundings before you even think about diving, especially into a lake.

She said, “It’s a changing environment, so it may have been a place where you have dove before, but the sandbars shift, and there can be hidden objects under the water, especially if the water is murky. “

The same goes for pools.

“I’ve even heard of injuries where someone is playfully pushed into a pool, and just because they are not anticipating the force, it has resulted in a significant neck injury,” Ostema said.

And when in doubt, Oostema said, play it safe and jump in feet first and never swim alone.

“I’ve had patients who have been laying face down in the water, just hoping and praying that someone comes to get them, because they can’t move, they can’t roll over. They are just holding their breath,” she said.

Crowell said she was lucky to have friends nearby the day of her accident and now, she see’s every day as a gift.

“Do I wish this didn’t happen? Of course. I saw my life in a very different direction than this, but at the same time, I’ve never met more real people ever, my peers are amazing.”

Some extra reminders from Mary Free Bed:

1. Never dive into the shallow end of a pool

2. Never dive into an above ground pool

3. Never dive through pool toys, like inner tubes

4. Use alcohol responsibly around water

5. Jump in feet-first, before attempting a dive

6. Never dive in murky water