Boy breaks neck in swimming accident on Somass River

Port Alberni, BC

The temperature was soaring in the mid 30’s on the afternoon of Wednesday, June 12, and so it was a good day to be splashing around in the Somass River. But for 12 year-old Tseshaht member Dominic Guzman, a good deed nearly turned tragic.

The young man fell head first into the water, breaking his neck.

Lilly Campbell spoke to Ha-Shilth-Sa on behalf of Catherine Guzman and her son Dominic, who was enroute to Vancouver for treatment at BC Children’s Hospital.

According to Campbell, Dominic had been swimming at the gravel bar in the Somass River near what locals call the “Orange Bridge”. There is a rope swing attached to a tree in the area. The rope became snagged on the tree branches so Dominic climbed up and released the swing so that the kids could play on it.

It was as he turned to come back down the tree that he lost his grip and fell.

“Rather than belly flop, he raised his arms and attempted to dive,” said Campbell.

But the water was shallow and young Dominic hit the sand, head first. Campbell said that his head had been stuck in the sand but he eventually popped up and cried for help.

Starla Watts was nearby and immediately came to his assistance. She knew instantly that he needed to be immobilized in case of spinal cord injury and she called out for help. Cecil Mack was going by in a boat and jumped in to help. So did Mary Haberland. All three kept Dominic still, in the water, until the ambulance arrived with a spine board.

A chest x-ray at West Coast General Hospital confirmed that Dominic suffered a serious neck injury and he was immediately airlifted to Victoria General Hospital, where his anxious family waited.

Further testing confirmed that Dominic had a broken neck with four fractured vertebrae. He was transferred to BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver on June 17.

“Catherine is still processing all of this, she’s scared, uncertain of what the future will bring,” said Campbell.

Dominic is not paralyzed but must wear a bulky and expensive neck and back brace for at least three months.

“He is not allowed to raise his arms above his head or cross his arms in front of himself; he can’t climb stairs and he can’t be outside – things that could make the injury worse,” said Campbell.

On the bright side, Dominic has some limited mobility and is in good spirits. He received a stuffed eagle from his brother.

“Dominic said that before he fell out of the tree an eagle flew very close to him, and after he fell the pair of eagles went crazy, calling out, circling and diving,” said Campbell, adding that the eagles never left him. Dominic named his eagle Papa Gerry, after his late grandfather.

A crowdfunding page has been set up to help the family with the costs of being away from home and medical equipment Dominic will need.

“His family has not been to work since this happened; they are staying by his side,” said Campbell. She added that they are paying for his expensive neck and back braces. One costs $500 and was used only two days.

He will need rehabilitation, a hospital bed, commode and other equipment required for people with limited mobility. He will also need a home care worker and assistance from family members as he recovers.

Dominic told Ha-Shilth-Sa to tell the people that he is grateful to be alive.…

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