In 1984, Joe Campbell, 16, attended a school-sponsored wrestling match. Afterward, with the coach gone for a few minutes, Joe began playing around with a boy 70 pounds heavier than he. Both boys fell, and Joe screamed. The coach ran in and performed first aid. Paramedics took Joe to the nearest hospital. What would you have done?

The spine consists of many vertebrae stacked one upon the other and held together by ligaments. Each vertebra has a hollow center through which passes the great mass of nerves known as the spinal cord. It is connected to the brain above. The spinal cord can be compared to a large telephone trunk line that carries two-way communication to and from the brain.If one of more vertebrae are injured, the spinal cord may also be injured. Spinal cord damage may be caused by pressure on the cord exerted by a displaced vertebra, swelling or bleeding. In severe cases, the cord may be severed.

Signs of spinal cord injury

Do not move the victim, and do not allow the victim to move. Key signs of a spinal cord injury are:

- Laceration or bruise

- Tenderness over any point of spine, neck

- Extremity weakness, paralysis, loss of movement

- Loss of sensation or tingling in any part of the body below the neck

First aid

1. Immobilize the head and neck in a neutral position. Stabilize the head and prevent movement of the neck. Tell the victim not to move.

2. Do not move the victim unless it is necessary to perform CPR or to remove him or her from a dangerous environment.

3. Call the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) system.

Stabilizing the spine

Initially stabilize the neck by a rescuer using both hands on each side of the head, over the ears, to prevent movement. Do not move or twist the head and neck. Provide support until the spine is fully splinted. Splinting of the neck requires a rigid collar and a long or short spine board.

First aiders normally do not have access to a cervical collar or spine boards. If the arrival of the EMS will be long, give added stability (it's not a substitute for the hands over the ears) by:

1. Folding a newspaper to a width of about 4 inches.

2. Wrap it in a triangular bandage or scarf, or insert it into a woman's nylon stocking or pair of tights. Bend it over your thigh to a contour matching the victim's neck.

3. Place the center of the collar at the front of the victim's neck below the chin.

4. Fold the collar around the neck and tie in position at the front.

Avoid moving the neck when fitting the collar. Continue supporting the head and neck with your hands, even after the collar is fitted.