Page 5 - Heart of Hoag December 2014
P. 5
“Our aim is to help keep people from getting into trouble in the first place,” said Linda Reuter, Program Director of Project Wipeout. “Today, we have reached millions.”
Born and raised in Southern California, Dr. Skinner was taught how to dive and swim by the lifeguards at Hermosa Beach. After medical school at Stanford University, he returned to Southern California to become a physician at Hoag, where he would plan his lunch breaks to allow for a good hour’s worth of swimming or boogie boarding.
His time in the water hasn’t been completely injury-free. Dr. Skinner underwent a neck fusion surgery from “being a little foolish” and flipping out of a wave about 25 years ago. He also has nodules in his ears from years of saltwater exposure, and his left arm is weaker than it would have been had he not taken quite as many risks on the waves.
But he feels fortunate to have avoided the types of injuries he witnessed in the ICU. And, with hospitals and lifeguards from the East Coast to Hawaii using the program he helped start, Dr. Skinner said he is proud of the legacy of Project Wipeout.
Still, he never takes anything for granted. He calls Hoag’s Joan and Andy Fimiano Emergency Pavilion regularly, and while he is no longer able to get as much information now that he’s retired, the nurses have let him know that they only see about three beach-related neck injuries a year. That may be better than the statistics of 1979, but for Dr. Skinner, it’s three injuries too many.
“The message,” he says, “still needs to get out.”
A “Wipeout” Turns Surfer Into Supporter
Andrew Meredith felt his head slam the ocean floor. Then he heard a pop. A somersault, a final push and then the waves crashed on his neck again. Pop. Pop.
The ocean had broken Meredith’s C1 cervical vertebra along with his T1 and T2 thoracic vertebrae. Those are injuries that kill, but Meredith was lucky.
Lifeguards immediately recognized the severity of the situation and made sure Meredith got
to Hoag Hospital where he received expert surgical care.
After six months in a neck brace, he is completely healthy and pain-free. His recovery is a testament to quick-thinking lifeguards, skilled neurosurgeon William Dobkin, M.D., and Hoag’s remarkable staff.
But the fact that Meredith was alive when he got to the hospital, that is complete luck.
That is why today Meredith supports Hoag’s Project Wipeout, a program designed to save lives and prevent injuries by developing and distributing beach safety information.
“I hadn’t been body surfing in waves like that for many years, and I had forgotten the power of the waves,” said Meredith, who lives in Tulsa, Okla.
By distributing safety tips, Project Wipeout reminds locals and teaches tourists to respect the ocean’s unpredictable power.
“I remember that day, I saw the red flag [that warned of rip currents], and I didn’t know what it meant,” he said. “People need this information.”
• Always swim with a friend and stay near a lifeguard.
• Never dive head first into the water! And never dive off piers, rock jetties or surfboards.
• Stay away from the big waves that crash onto the shore.
• When bodyboarding or bodysurfing keep your arms out in front and don’t forget your fins and board leash.
• If you get caught in a rip current, swim parallel to the shore until you are out of the current.
• If you are in trouble, call or wave for help and if you see someone in trouble, tell the lifeguard right away.
Huntington Beach Marine Safety officer, Tony Villalobos, reunites with Andrew after a full recovery.

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