KNAU and Arizona News
3:54 am
Wed February 11, 2009

Sledding causes major injuries

Flagstaff, AZ – Host intro:
One of the most common injuries seen at Flagstaff Medical Center's Emergency Department right now is a spinal cord fracture. People are breaking their backs sledding. FMC has already seen more than 80 sledding related injuries this winter. Arizona Public Radio's Laurel Morales reports.

SFX: kids sledding screaming and laughing

Many of us have fond winter memories of playing in the snow. Laughing uncontrollably as we hurdle ourselves down a steep hill, as we catch some air we scream when realize the only thing between us and the icy ground is a thin piece of plastic. Ouch! Maybe we've forgotten that part.

Fade out SFX

Heather Taylor knows that feeling all too well. A few years ago she was in a major sledding accident with her son at Northern Arizona University's practice field.

TAYLOR: My son and I were on the same sled. We went down the first terrace and then hit the second terrace and just went straight off and then landed it was probably a 14 foot free fall and I landed flat on my butt. My son got the wind knocked out of him. I ended up I had two compound compression fractures of T11 and T12. Those two vertebrae are squished.

Today it's Taylor's job to educate families about sledding safely. She's the Safe Kids Coconino County Injury Prevention Coordinator. She says the safest way to sled is on your knees and wearing a helmet. She says it's also best to sled where there's supervision.

The Wing Mountain play area just west of Flagstaff has significantly decreased the number of its sledding related injuries this year with the help of some supervisors.

TAYLOR: They actually have people out there with bullhorns watching the sledders saying you know don't walk up where sledders are coming down.' When they see people building a mogul or a jump they immediately tear it down so you don't have those types of impact injuries.

Last year Wing Mountain counted 17-thousand cars. Flagstaff Medical Center reported the highest number of sledding related injuries came from there. This year it's NAU's practice field.

Shawn Bowker is FMC's injury prevention coordinator for trauma services.

BOWKER: They're always surprised that they're injured. I had no idea that this could happen. Or they're angry because they were hit by another sledder. Or there was some obstacle they didn't see. They're irritated that it happened and they're embarrassed that they didn't scout the area very well.

Bowker says the majority of the sledding injuries they see are people from the Phoenix area. So Bowker and Taylor are trying to get the word out in Maricopa County that families need to take precautions before heading north to play in the snow. Stephanie Wiley is a registered nurse in FMC's emergency department.

WILEY: People think sledding looks very benign and safe. But actually unless you have perfect conditions, which means a very safe area to sled, nice fluffy soft snow, no trees, no rocks, no roads, no other people to run into it does have an element of danger to it.

She says one of the scariest things she sees is people sledding on the side of the road towards traffic.

Wiley says the emergency department also sees a lot of sledding accidents in the days after a snow storm. When warm temperatures follow a big storm, that snow melts, then turns to ice.

WILEY: Sledding on ice is the same as doing that activity on rock. You take a body that is hurdling along, and have it fall uncontrolled onto ice slash rock you're going to have injuries the potential for head injuries but the biggest that we see are injuries in the back.

The forecast calls for warmer temperatures later this week, which means this fluffy white snow will soon turn to ice.

For Arizona Public Radio I'm Laurel Morales in Flagstaff.