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Doctors warn dangers of diving

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WALKER COUNTY, Ga. -

Thousands of us will spend Spring Break either parked by the pool or digging in the sand. But before you hit the water, you need to hear Austin Whitten's story. A single dive changed the life of the Walker County teen.

It was June 9th, the end of ninth grade and the start of summer.  The then-15-year old Austin Whitten of Lafayette and his buddies were celebrating with cannonballs, and corkscrews and belly flops.

"Big guys like me can make big splashes.  So I just did a can-opener the first time," Whitten recalled.

The second time, Austin jumped into his friend's above-ground pool, "I was just leveled out, where I just hit the water like that."

That's when he felt it:  he was in trouble.

"Because right when I came out of the water, I was, like, 'Something is not right,'" said Whitten.

Austin, a three-sport athlete, suddenly couldn't move -- or even feel -- his legs.

"That's the only thing that was going through my mind, I was, like, 'I can't be paralyzed, I can't be paralyzed,'" Whitten said.

But he was.  He'd broken his neck without ever striking the bottom or the side of the pool.

"If you hit the water with enough force, the right angle, you can break your neck and be paralyzed.  You don't really have to hit the bottom," said Dr. Herndon Murray.

Murray, director of teen program at Shepherd Center, has a collection of photos  of exactly where patients have been hurt diving.

There are rivers, lakes and pools.

One patient slid head-first off this tiny houseboat slide. Others have broken their necks skim-boarding, body surfing, or just diving headfirst into waves.
     
"It's a horrifying story, when you ask them what if feels like when you break your neck.  Usually they say, 'It's a crunch or I felt something pop.  And then I couldn't move,'" said Murray said.  
 
Ali Monckeberg slid head-first down a homemade water slide in Myrtle Beach three years ago, damaging her spinal cord so badly, for a while, she couldn't move anything but her right wrist.

She's now 24, and almost fully recovered and she says taking this kind of risk just isn't worth it.

"Don't dive into any type water, even if you know, or you think you know it's deep enough.  Because that's what I thought that day," said Monckeberg.

"Enter the water feet first. We would much rather you break your leg than break your neck," Murray said.
 
Ten months after his diving accident,  Austin is back at Lafayette High School, getting on with his life. But that day - and that dive - have cost him a lot.

"I would suggest don't dive at all," said Whitten.  "They got the signs all over the pool that say, ‘No diving.'  You need to go by them."

Austin and his parents says their entire town of Lafayette has rallied around them. He says he doesn't talk much about diving. But having seen what he's gone through, his friends will never dive into anything head-first again.

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