Swimmer and six-time Olympic gold medal winner Amy Van Dyken Rouen severed her spinal cord in an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) accident in Scottsdale. The Los Angeles Times reported that her spinal cord was severed at the T11 vertebrae and the break came within millimeters of rupturing her aorta.
On Friday night, Amy went airborne after her ATV hit a curb, sending her down an embankment. Rouen, who was not wearing a helmet, was unable to move her legs and had difficulty breathing. Her husband Tom Rouen, a former Denver Broncos punter recounted the incident, “She wasn’t breathing… I raised up the back of her neck with my hand, she started gasping for air.”
The website AZcentral.com said that Van Dyken Rouen, 41, was in the Intensive Care Unit at Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn Medical Center after undergoing surgery. Tom Rouen said that, “after surgery, she needs about three days before she is out of the woods. She is strong and has a great attitude.” In a statement her family read to swimmingworldmagazine.com, they said: “Amy awoke within hours of surgery acting like her typical spunky, boisterous, ebullient self and has spent the last 24 hours entertaining her family and her medical staff in the ICU.”
Doctors were less cheerful than Amy, however, and painted a more serious picture. The Denver Post reported that Dr. Vikas Patel, an associate professor at the University of Colorado Hospital and the chief orthopedic spine surgeon, who has not examined Amy or consulted with her doctors, expressed that an injury to the T11 like she experienced is devastating.
“The T11 is one of the vertebrae in the middle of the back, and it’s a relatively stiff and strong vertebra,” Patel said. “It means there had to have been a tremendous amount of force.” The Doctor says full recovery is unlikely and that one of the effects could be that Amy remain paralyzed in her legs. He conceded that it could take months before we can draw complete conclusions.
Amy was the first female athlete to win four gold medals in a single Games. At the 1996 Atlanta games, Van Dyken Rouen took the gold in the 50-meter freestyle and the 100-meter butterfly and also was a member of the winning relay teams in the 400-meter freestyle and 400-meter medley. She took home two more golds in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
Photo credit: Todd Warshaw/Allsports USA