First-Time Surfers Cautioned About Rare Spinal Injury

Making Progress

Guintu works on strengthening his core and other muscles for more than four hours a day, five days a week -- with help from Flores, who is now his fiancee.

And he is making progress.

"When I first got admitted to the hospital, I couldn't cough, I couldn't sneeze, I couldn't laugh," he said. "I have a little more movement now from my stomach, my core. I'm still a long way from getting better."

In the meantime, Guintu is enjoying his life with Flores and staying active in inventive ways. He was even able to participate in the Los Angeles Marathon, using a custom-made bike that he pedals with his arms.

And Fritschner is making progress, too, defying doctor's expectations. At the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, the same center that trained actor Christopher Reeve, he is trying to walk again. Recently, he has regained some feeling in his legs and has been able to cross short distances with the help of a walker.

"I pretty much, like, disregarded everything my therapist said, and just like, started walking, because I just -- I wanted it so bad," the teen said.

Advice for First-Time Surfers

For those who would like to try surfing, it is important to remember that this condition is extremely rare -- a surfer has a greater chance of being attacked by a shark than of being stricken with surfer's myelopathy. But Pearce has some commonsense advice for that first lesson.

"Some of the patients we saw thought the back stiffness was just part of doing a new physical activity and wanted to stay out longer and get their money's worth," he said.

Pearce said doctors have been encouraging surfing schools to tell their clients to come immediately back to shore and seek medical attention if they feel unusual stiffness or pain in their backs or numbness in their legs or feet. Pearce said that doctors suspect a quick response means a greater chance of recovery.

Click Here to learn more about Joe Guintu's story.

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