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Young man paralyzed after diving mishap on Puntledge River in Courtenay

A typical Saturday of fun on the Puntledge River went horribly wrong for Cameron Thompson on July 3.
Cameron Thompson’s aunt, Brenda Payne, looks into the Puntledge River at the location where Cameron dove in for a swim. “This was just a shallow dive, to go for a swim, and he misjudged.” Cameron Thompson remains in hospital in Vancouver with a spinal injury. Photo by Terry Farrell

A typical Saturday of fun on the Puntledge River went horribly wrong for Cameron Thompson on July 3.

The young man who grew up in the Valley was out swimming with friends, just downstream from Condensory Bridge. He dove off the rocks, about eight feet above the water, went in, and didn’t come out.

“I think he just misjudged his dive,” said Thompson’s aunt, Brenda Payne. “It looks deep enough to dive from that spot. I think he just misjudged the angle of his dive. This was not a deep dive. He was diving for a swim, but misjudged.”

Payne, who was not present at the time, said when Thompson’s friends realized he was in danger, they quickly went into first aid response mode.

“Nobody saw the actual impact, but from where they were sitting, they could see he was laying in the water, not able to move… so they jumped in, pulled him out, and saved him from drowning.”

Kianda Jacobsen, a friend of Thompson’s who recently earned a diploma as a health care aide, was one of those who tended to Thompson until paramedics arrived.

“There was about 10 of us on scene at the time that did a little bit of everything,” said Jacobsen. “It was very scary - it happened so fast. He dove into water and definitely thought it was deeper than it was. It was just too shallow where he hit. My boyfriend, Dylan, jumped into the water and grabbed Cameron out of the water. Another one of our friends, Rob, helped get Cameron onto the ledge, and then I was called over to give chest compressions, but he was not needing CPR at all, so that was a good sign. I stayed by his side just taking his pulse, checking his breathing, making sure he was comfortable, and my girlfriend Tara supported the neck so we could keep him as still as possible, and another guy down on his legs. Everybody definitely did their part that night to keep Cam as comfortable and as safe as we could. It was definitely very startling.”

Thompson broke his neck in two places, with severe trauma to his spinal cord. He was transported to Vancouver where he remains, with his mom, Christina, by his side. He is paralyzed from the chest down and is intubated.

Thompson’s friends who were with him at the time found Christina’s contact info on social media and reached out to advise her of the incident.

“Christina was actually out camping at Muchalat Lake at the time, but they got a hold of her dad and Cameron’s brother Brennan, at their home in Gold River,” said Payne. “So those two drove out to Muchalat Lake and grabbed her and she went straight to Vancouver. She got about five minutes with Cameron before they intubated him, so to this point, she really hasn’t been able to get much information.”

Payne said this incident is an example of how quickly things can go wrong when dealing with a wild river, and said parents should make sure their children are aware of the inherent dangers.

“Honestly, this was just an honest mistake, an honest accident,” she said. “Things like this can happen so quickly. If you want to know how to keep your children safe in the river, my advice is to prepare them for the eventuality of an accident, because at some point, if you play in the river, you are either going to be around an accident, or be in one. It is so important to stay calm and react in a way that is life-saving.”

Payne said the family appreciated that Thompson’s friends refrained from posting anything to social media.

“These kids, they really felt it was a family story to tell, so they just tucked in and waited until we found them, out of respect for the family,” said Payne. “This is a really cool love story. These kids were so respectful of the family… they feel very devastated that they couldn’t do more for Cameron, but they saved his life… they did everything exactly right.”

Payne’s initial update explained that “the injuries to his spinal cord are extensive, leaving Cameron paralyzed with a long road of healing ahead of him.”

He remains in the Intensive Care Unit in Vancouver.

“He is in the ICU for at least four more days, and then they will switch him to the spinal injury recovery ward, and from there we will be on a new plan,” said Payne.

Payne and Sarah Caruso in the process of setting up a trust fund to accept donations to help toward rehabilitation costs for the Thompson family. For more information on that, and to get the latest updates on Thompson’s condition, they have set up a “Team Cameron” Facebook page at

ALSO: CVSR spends hours searching Puntledge River after discovery of abandoned kayak
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Cameron Thompson was seriously injured while swimming in the Puntledge River July 3. Photo via Facebook