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Headed to the beach for Labor Day? Stay safe with Project WipeoutLinda ReuterAugust 27, 2014

​The very last days of summer are upon us, and as people try to eek out one last (or first) trip to the beach for the season, lifeguards are prepared for huge surf and large crowds. 

With so many inexperienced beachgoers hitting the surf, lifeguards often see an unfortunate uptick in accidents and injuries during Labor Day weekend. Hoag’s Project Wipeout aims to prevent accidents and make sure your day at the beach is fun and safe.

Project Wipeout was started 35 years ago this month, when five young men were admitted to the Hoag ICU with neck and spinal cord injuries related to surfing and swimming accidents at the beach. Dr. Jack Skinner and other concerned Hoag physicians and nurses, along with local paramedics and lifeguards decided something had to be done and developed educational material to help prevent injuries and save lives. 

Today, Project Wipeout has reached millions, saving lives and preventing injuries at our beaches, by offering information and resources to keep people safe at the beach.

Among the most important tips Project Wipeout offers include:

- Don’t dive head-first into water because the ocean floor is uneven. It’s best to test the depth of water with your feet, not your head.

- Check in with the lifeguards when you get to the beach. Lifeguards can tell you what the ocean conditions are like and whether it’s a good idea to swim.

- If you’re caught in a rip current, stay calm and don’t fight the current. A rip current will pull you away from the shore, but it will not pull you under water. To escape, swim parallel to the shore, until you are out of the current. Then swim at an angle away from the current toward the shore.

Rip currents are one of the biggest reasons for drowning, and the untrained eye typically doesn’t see them. That was the case for Andrew Meredith.

On Aug. 3, 2012, Meredith, now 23, of Tulsa, Okla., was vacationing in Huntington Beach. Body surfing with friends, Meredith took a large wave at the wrong angle and got caught in a rip current. He was tossed around by the waves like a T-shirt in a washing machine.

The waves pushed him to the shore, slamming his head into the sand. He heard a pop. The ocean had broken Andrew’s C1 cervical vertebra. The waves tossed him some more, and he heard two more pops. His T2 and T3 thoracic vertebrae broke, too. Those are injuries that can kill, but lifeguards immediately understood the severity of the injuries and made sure Meredith got to Hoag.

After surgery and six months in a neck brace, Meredith was healthy, pain-free and capable of doing everything he could do before. His recovery is a testament to the quick-thinking of the lifeguards; the skill of his neurosurgeon, William Dobkin, M.D., and the support of Hoag’s remarkable and positive staff.

But Meredith knows his injuries could have been avoided altogether if he had been more knowledgeable about ocean safety before diving in. He hopes more people make use of Project Wipeout’s informational packets and website before hitting the beach.

“Some of it was a lack of knowledge,” Meredith shared, of his own injury. “I hadn’t been body surfing in waves like that for many years, and I had forgotten the power of the waves. That mixture of forgetting the power of the waves and not thinking about the consequences if I do something wrong, that was a bad combination.”

Meredith has become a kind of one-man Project Wipeout for his friends and family. In addition to sharing his story, he tells everyone who will listen to get educated before they get in the water.

“A lot of people, when they are injured, they fear it,” Meredith said. “I don’t fear the ocean, but I respect it a lot more.”

For more information, visit Project Wipeout.

 
 

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