A trampoline accident paralyzes a young patient

Short of banning trampoline sales, installing a protective net can help reduce the risk for devastating neck injuries.

A trampoline accident paralyzes a young patient
A trampoline accident paralyzes a young patient

When working in an intensive care unit, I cared for an 18-year-old boy, who sustained a C2 cervical spine injury that resulted in total paralysis and required the patient be placed on mechanical ventilation.

The boy's father had purchased the trampoline because he felt guilty about lack of time he was spending with his son due to long work hours. The patient's  mother left the family at an early age, and both father and son lived with elderly grandparents.

The father explained that he worked nights and had come home and assembled the trampoline. The first time his son used it, he fell back on the bar and sustained the injury. It was a devastating experience for the entire family, as well as the community.

While in ICU, the patient required tube feedings to maintain nutritional status. Due to lack of mobility, he developed several episodes of pneumonia, pressure sores and Clostridium difficile infection from exposure to various antibiotics. Christopher Reeves came to visit the patient while he was hospitalized to provide supportive care, which was exciting for the patient. However, he became extremely angry and depressed, and required extensive therapy.

The patient became verbally abusive to both the staff and family caring for him, which worsened the situation. Most of the nurses on the unit took his behavior personally and refused to care for him. I felt up to the challenge and always requested him as a patient. I always let him verbalize his thoughts, which usually consisted of cursing and screaming, but he eventually tired of this behavior, revealing a vulnerable and scared patient.

Eventually the patient was transferred to a different hospital for rehabilitation. The challenge of caring for this boy in his prime teenage years were overwhelming. In the beginning, his classmates came to visit, but eventually his friends stopped coming.

The boy's father was devastated and would come to visit totally intoxicated, I'm sure to cope with the pain. He eventually went to a 28-day program and ended in Alcoholics Anonymous.

Caring for this young man required endless control and patience. The incident also prompted me to rally against unsafe trampoline use. Whenever I see young children jumping on trampolines, I talk with the parents and tell them of my patient's life-long injuries. Some listen with a sympathetic ear, but I notice the trampolines are never taken down. I at least try to encourage parents to put up a protective net to prevent children from falling backward on the neck.

The California pediatric community has also advocated for a ban on dangerous trampolines, but have been unsuccessful thus far. I've spoken at several elementary schools regarding the dangers of trampolines. Some people are receptive and others ignored my pleas. If the community had a better understanding of the devastation trampoline injuries have caused, I think they might think twice.

Diane Barbara, ANP, practices in Yonkers, New York.

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