Diving Accident Leads to Emergency Room Visit for Teen Lifeguard

Anthony in his lifeguard chair.
Anthony Spinney returned to his lifeguard chair after suffering neck and spinal cord injuries.

From the ER to ICU to Home

A diving accident landed Anthony Spinney in the Cincinnati Children’s Emergency Room, where trauma team members began assessment and treatment upon his arrival. Months of hard work have led to a successful recovery.

Anthony Spinney dove into the water like he’d done hundreds of times.

As a lifeguard, he’s often swimming and diving head-first into the Delhi Township community pool where he works, but this dive in July 2018 didn’t feel right.

Exiting the pool, Anthony knew something was wrong and went home to rest.  He called his parents and described the numbness in his fingers. His mom, Bridget, thought he had a pulled muscle and told him to take some ibuprofen and lie down.

Hours later Anthony could feel tingling sensations in his arms and toes and couldn’t use his arms very well. Then his vision began to blur.

A visit to Urgent Care showed all vital signs as stable, but a neurology check raised concerns. Anthony went directly to Cincinnati Children’s Emergency Room.

Upon entering the trauma bay it was all hands on deck, as Bridget recalls, with 15 to 20 people working on her son.

“They put him in a cervical spine collar, and just by his unresponsive reflexes, they elevated it to a Level 1 trauma and called in neuro,” said Bridget.

CT and MRI scans both came back negative for a fracture, but doctors determined Anthony must have hyperextended his neck during impact with the water.

Anthony was placed in the Intensive Care Unit (where he remained for seven days) as medical staff focused on increasing blood flow to his neck and brain.

“It was a cascade of things. He was starting to get scared, but our nurse was just phenomenal,” said Bridget. “From a medical perspective, they really cared about what I had to say. You don’t often find that in a hospital setting.”

“It makes you feel they care about you and your opinion and your child. To really weigh in on your child’s care – rather than just being told what’s going to happen – is just amazing, because parents do know their kids better than anyone.”

Anthony, 17, remembers being asked a lot of questions by nurses, but also recalls the fear he felt and the desire to remain calm.

“I didn’t really know that there were that many people in there. I had my C-collar on. I was just looking straight up. I wasn’t in shock, but that’s what I felt like,” he said. 

Praise for Doctors and Care Team

Anthony said all his doctors and nurses were great but has the highest praise for Jesse Skoch, MD, from the Division of Neurosurgery. 

“He was always straight up with me, and I was grateful for that,” said Anthony. “He said you have to go to PT (physical therapy) and OT (occupational therapy), and you have to do it yourself.” 

Skoch recalls Anthony as an excellent patient with a strong will and mature attitude who wanted to fully understand his condition. The case was unique, as it’s atypical to have this type of neck injury despite negative initial MRI and CT scans, said Skoch. 

In Anthony’s case, he stretched and bruised his spinal cord, but evidence of the injury only showed up a few days later. 

“His case is very interesting. It’s a pretty rare occurrence,” said Skoch. “Especially with teenage patients, I try to treat them as an adult and have a conversation. Address them as an adult and they will often step up to that level.”

Punching Fear Right in Its Face

Anthony listened and attended all his therapy sessions. He worked hard, kept a positive attitude and returned to school at the beginning of the year, even though he had medical clearance to miss the first six weeks.

He wore the cervical collar for two months, removing it in October.

What hadn’t been removed, though, was his lingering fear about the water. Months after the accident and well into his recovery, Anthony had all but written off a return to Overhill Swim Club.

His mom convinced him to go back to his job. 

His first dive was in late May, seven months after the C-collar was removed. As he stood on the diving board, a flood of memories returned.

“I got up there, and it takes you back. I remembered all the different things that were leading up to what would come after I dove,” said Anthony. 

“I was scared. I was definitely scared. I never thought I’d do it again. But once I did it I felt so proud of myself. Like I punched fear right in its face.” 

Anthony in hospital bed.

“I was scared. I was definitely scared. I never thought I’d do it again. But once I did it I felt so proud of myself. Like I punched fear right in its face.” 

  - Anthony, describing his first dive into the swimming pool after recovering from his injury.