‘Think First’ program urges young people to be aware of swimming, diving dangers to prevent spinal injury

Safety & Security

WALLINGFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — July is the month when the most spinal cord accidents happen. The victims are mostly men in their 20’s diving into water that is too shallow or dangerous according to Megan Palmer who runs a Diving Danger Awareness Program from Gaylord Specialty Healthcare called “Think First.”

Gaylord is a top facility for caring for paraplegic patients.

Ryan Rosario of Meriden has been going to Gaylord since his diving accident left him paralyzed from the neck down in 2007.

“I went out swimming with some friends at Lighthouse in New Haven and there was a boardwalk there and I ended up jumping without checking to see if it was low tide,” Rosario recalls.

He jumped 20 feet down into just 5 feet of water, hitting the hard bottom, and injuring his spine.

“When I went to swim back up I heard a buzzing sound throughout my whole body,” Rosario recalls.

He was paralyzed from the neck down. That moment in 2007 changed his life forever. His journey started at Gaylord Specialty Healthcare.

Their “Think First” program educates young people on diving dangers. Palmer says young people really pay attention to the survivors.

“We go out to schools, health fairs around the state and talk about the risk of unsafe behaviors and how it can lead to a spinal cord injury or even death,” says Palmer the program’s coordinator.

Two years after his accident, Rosario met his wife who already had two boys. He says they inspired him to keep going. The couple also has a son of their own that Rosario calls his miracle.

News 8 profiled Rosario last year when he discovered his love for painting with his mouth. He donated this to Gaylord Healthcare workers and it is on display there now.

RELATED: Quadriplegic paints with mouth to honor healthcare workers’ dedication during the pandemic

His advice to young people thinking of diving or swimming? Do not ignore “no swimming or diving” signs anywhere.

“Always check the tide and always check the area where you’re going to go swimming just in case there are any rocks,” Rosario warned.

She urges parents to talk with their children about the dangers.

“Everyone says ‘oh it’s not going to happen to me.’ Well, it does and Ryan’s a living miracle of showing that it does happen to normal everyday people.”

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