Incredible recovery after diving accident paralyzes Houston oil executive
Neurosurgeons discovered Dominique Malard had a congenital defect of his spine
With temperatures inching up to 100 degrees, sometimes the only reprieve is a dip in the pool. But it only took a split second for a diving accident to paralyze a Houston oil executive.
It was a warm April afternoon when Dominique Malard decided to cool off by jumping in his backyard pool.
"I intended to do a flip in the air and I obviously miscalculated," said Malard. "So I hit my head and I was paralyzed on impact immediately. I was fully conscious, laying down at the bottom of the pool. I remember I was trying to scream, but I was screaming in my head."
Even though Malard couldn't be heard, his 9-year-old daughter Laetitia could see her father struggling.
"I saw that it was bad and I lifted him up," said Laetitia.
Laetitia brought him to the surface of the pool. EMS workers brought him to Ben Taub Hospital's neurological intensive care unit where his wife remained by his side.
"He said, 'Maria, Maria, am I moving my fingers?'" said his wife, "and I saw him and he was totally paralyzed."
Neurosurgeons discovered Malard had a congenital defect of his spine. It was 50 percent narrower than normal. When he hit his head, it was at just the right angle to cause significant injury to the spinal cord, paralyzing him.
"A lot of people do have it," said Dr. Shankar Gopinath, Chief of Neurosurgery at Ben Taub. "No one has any symptoms unless they have a trauma and that's when they realize they have that injury."
But there is hope for people with this type of traumatic injury. Three weeks after the accident, surgeons went in to make repairs.
"We cut the bone along the side, then opened it like a door. Then we keep the door like that and we put in a plate and screws so the canal is kept open," said Gopinath.
Four days after the operation, Malard began intense rehab at the Institute for Rehabilitation and Research (TIRR). Just 24 days later, he walked out the doors nearly 100 percent back to normal.
"The worst case scenario is the injury staying the same, like Christopher Reeves," said Dr. George Al-Shamy, Chief Resident Ben Taub. "People have no motion of their arms and legs, cannot feel, cannot breathe, have to have a trachea breathing tube to help them and the best case scenario is Dominique Malard. He is moving around, working, traveling with his family, living a normal life."
"I feel we are very lucky. We are very, very lucky," said Maria.
Doctors say that Malard's miraculous recovery is due to everything happening in precise order: His daughter rescuing him, he was quickly taken to a level-one trauma center for fast diagnosis then the intangible, and his sheer determination.
"This is not only me," said Dominique. "Sure, I'm the one who jumped in the pool, I'm the one who hurt myself, I'm the one who is paralyzed, but my whole family was paralyzed."
Doctors say diving accidents are not uncommon, especially this time of year.
"People have to be careful where they're diving. They have to be aware of their surrounding and minimize it especially in the lakes, where they don't know the depth is," said Dr. Al-Shamy.
But Malard said he will never tempt fate again, "Nobody dives in that pool. Nobody dives in that pool now."