Montreal hospital reports 5 people paralyzed after diving into pools, lakes this month

Dr. Éric Piette says people are diving into shallow waters and breaking their necks. He said he thinks the uptick in incidents is connected to COVID-19 deconfinement.

Dr. Éric Piette says people are diving into shallow waters and breaking their necks

Sacré-Coeur Hospital reported five diving-related spinal cord injuries in the month of July. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

In the month of July alone, the trauma centre at Montreal's Sacré-Coeur hospital saw five cases of spinal cord injuries related to diving, three of which occurred in the last week. All five of the people admitted are now quadriplegics.

"These are young people who are diving without knowing the dangers, who hit their heads on the bottom of the pool," said Dr. Éric Piette, head of the trauma team at the regional health authority that oversees Sacré-Coeur hospital.

The hospital is designated as a specialized centre for spinal cord injuries and accepts patients from across Western Quebec.

Piette said with some in-ground pools, "the depth of the pool isn't deep enough, so people just dive in and bump their head on the bottom of the pool and break their neck, literally."

"These lesions are very serious and dangerous, because people end up paralyzed," he said. "It means they have no movement of the legs and partial or no movement of the arms."

Normally, the Quebec Lifesaving Society records about eight incidents like this per year.

According to their data, four out of five of these accidents involve men, aged 18 to 44.

Piette said young people sometimes make poor choices under pressure from their peers, challenging each other to dive or do a backflip.

"Sometimes people are intoxicated and they aren't as careful," said Piette.

The Lifesaving Society recommends that for safe diving, water should be at least 2.75 metres deep over a distance of six metres.

Piette said when it comes to lakes and rivers, it can be hard to spot the dangers through murky water. 

He said before doing any kind of diving, people must make sure they know how deep it is and check for hazards like rocks.

With more people staying in Quebec this summer due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, Piette said the hot weather and the excitement of deconfinement may be factors in the high number of cases.

"With the end of confinement and with everyone staying in Quebec, I guess most people are more around water, lakes boats," he said. 

He said people are "enjoying their liberty outside" but likely not being cautious enough.

"I think, unfortunately, we'll see more [incidents] during this summer compared to last year," he said.

There has also been an increase in drowning deaths in Quebec this summer, with 52 deaths recorded so far — compared to 36 at the same point last year.

With files from Lauren McCallum, Radio-Canada's Simon Coutu