ALPINE, Utah — What was supposed to be a day of celebration quickly turned into a day of uncertainty after Spencer Brown hit his head on the bottom of the pool.
The family was together to celebrate his recent graduation from NYU with a pool party on July 29, 2021. He and his wife had just announced that their third baby was on the way. Spencer had a slice of cake to eat before jumping off the diving board, headfirst.
“I remember banging my head and thinking, ‘Okay, time to swim out,'” he said. “My brain was sending signals, but nothing was moving.”
His wife, Ellis, did not see the dive, but remembers seeing Spencer floating face down in the pool.
“I heard my father shouting his name over and over. I looked in the pool and I just knew something was wrong,” she said.
She jumped into the pool and pulled her husband’s head out of the water to help him breathe. Other family members quickly stepped in to help. A cousin, who is studying to be a neurosurgeon, told the group to keep Spencer floating on his back in the water to avoid further injury while waiting for paramedics to arrive.
“I never would have thought to do that. I guess somebody has to get on a hard, level surface in case they need CPR,” Ellis said. “But I’m so glad we listened, otherwise we probably would have caused further damage to Spencer’s neck.”
“I’m glad my cousin gave us that advice…otherwise we probably would have caused further damage to his neck.”
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He was rushed to hospital where an MRI confirmed a C3-C6 spinal cord injury, which usually affects a person’s airways. Doctors told the couple that the majority of people with this injury die almost immediately. The couple consider Spencer’s case a miracle.
“We were so close to losing it,” Ellis said. “We are so grateful that it all turned out like this.”
After a week in intensive care and three months of therapy, Spencer defies odds and walks slowly on crutches.
“I’ll probably never go back to normal,” Spencer said. “This is my new body that I have adopted and you hope and pray that more and more will come each day.”
The couple’s mission now is to remind others to be careful in the water. They encourage anyone swimming this summer to have a designated lifeguard at family gatherings.
“You can rotate someone every 20 minutes. Ask them to wear a brightly colored item of clothing so people know not to distract them when on duty,” Ellis said. “Also have a basket nearby with a fully charged phone in case someone needs to call 9-1-1.”
They suggest having two adults in or near the water in case of an emergency. If an adult starts drowning, they say you can’t rely on children to save you.
“If I had taken the same dive and left my two young daughters there in the pool, they would have found me dead in the water,” Spencer said.
The couple hope their message will prevent an injury like this from happening to someone else.
“Things that you think will never happen to you sometimes end up becoming your new reality,” Ellis said.