December 4, 2010 in Washington Voices

Quick, slick slope sends sledders to ER

By The Spokesman-Review

Tyler Brink pulls his homemade ski sled and Eric Wagemann trudges his homemade “ski bike” up a hill at Valley Mission Park, Wednesday. This was the first day of sledding for the Spokane Valley boys. The hill has been busy since the recent snowfall, and several injuries occurred on the popular sledding hill over the weekend.
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More than 30 people visited the Valley Hospital and Medical Center emergency room last weekend with sledding injuries ranging from broken shins to fractured spines.

“They were almost exclusively from Valley Mission Park,” said Dr. Wayne Tilson, emergency department medical director.

The hill next to Splash Down in the park has been used for sledding for decades even though it’s not a designated sledding hill. There is a horse arena at the bottom of the hill and every year the city takes down the corral fence and puts hay bales along side the building and trees to help sledders avoid injury. “It’s not a recognized or sanctioned activity,” said Mike Stone, Spokane Valley parks and recreation director.

Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Jonathan Keeve was on duty last weekend and said he performed four surgeries on sledding accident victims. Injuries that he’s aware of include a punctured lung, fractured pelvis, fractured spines, broken shin bones, broken wrists and a head injury. The injured people were of all ages, he said.

“They hit each other,” he said. “One went over a big jump and broke his pelvis. One hit a building. You name it. It’s so hard. It’s not snow; it’s basically ice.”

Tilson said that many of the people had hit trees. Luckily the injured people will all recover in time. The spine fractures could more specifically be called compressed or collapsed vertebrae rather than a break. “These are people who get spun off, go airborne and then come down on their head,” he said.

Teens were among the injured, as was a 5-year-old boy with a broken collar bone. The broken bones were more severe than they usually see with sledding accidents, creating more bone pieces that indicates a lot of force, Tilson said.

One person required surgery to stabilize their spine and could have been made a paraplegic, Keeve said. The head injury could also have been much worse. “There are a lot more serious injuries than you’d expect for what is supposed to be a carefree, fun activity,” he said. “It’s not the sledding that’s bad, it’s the stop that’s bad.”

Part of the problem is that people are using a much steeper hill at the old senior center site instead of the gentler hill next to Splash Down, that is a little farther west. The steeper hill actually has a chain fence blocking access with signs that say “closed area.” People should not be sledding there, Stone said, but there’s little the city can do if people ignore the signs and fence. “The area is closed,” he said. “We’ve done, I think, what we can do at this point.”

On Wednesday afternoon there were plenty of people hopping the fence to slide down the closed area. There are more trees there and a building sits at the bottom off to one side.

Spokane resident Jesse Sandoval was with his 3 ½ year-old son and said he saw no problem sledding in an area that was supposed to be closed. “It’s really slick,” he said. “It makes good sledding.”

Sandoval also saw the hay bales around trees as an indication that sledding there was expected. His son clipped a hay bale next to a tree trunk as he slid down the hill, which sent him spinning. The boy was unscathed when he reached the bottom. “This is the best hill that I’ve been to so far,” Sandoval said.

A group of teens on the closed hill said they simply prefer it to the one next to Splash Down. “It’s longer and it’s better,” said Brett Harris. “We’re careful. You’ve got to pick your trail.”

“I can’t get any speed on the other hill,” said Torie Fugate. She said she did not notice the “closed area” signs, but did see the fence at the top of the steep drop off. “I actually hold on to it because it keeps me from slipping,” she said.

Keeve recommends that people should sled where there are no obstacles and not go when it’s hard and icy. “You might as well jump out of your car,” he said. “If you’re going 30 miles per hour, just jump out the window. It’s kind of the same thing.”

By the time everyone went back to work and school after the Thanksgiving holiday, the number of sledding injuries had trickled off. But they were quickly replaced by another winter emergency room staple – snow blower injuries. “I saw four people that had cut off various things yesterday in a half hour,” Keeve said.

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