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UI Rec Center climbing wall closes indefinitely after student falls

BY NICK HASSETT | NOVEMBER 12, 2012 6:30 AM

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Spencer Bean, an experienced rock climber, took to the climbing wall at the Campus Recreation & Wellness Center late last week — something friends say he does several times a week. But on this climb, the University of Iowa senior somehow fell 30-40 feet, almost leaving him paralyzed by the impact.

Bean, described by his brother as an experienced climber, reportedly fell from the wall on the night of Nov. 8. Though details of the exact nature of the incident are still unclear, he was rushed to UI Hospitals & Clinics in critical condition and has since undergone an eight-hour surgery.

His brother, Josh Bean, said Spencer Bean is “in a ton of pain,” but that his positive attitude persists.

According to a UI police incident report, a personal injury was reported to police at 9:56 p.m. at the Rec Center on Nov. 8.

One official at the center said the rock wall was closed Sunday because of the accident and unsure when the wall would reopen.

UI junior Andrew Lange said he was just leaving the Rec Center after a climbing session when he saw Bean fall from the wall. He said Bean appeared to fall 30 to 40 feet, the same distance reported on a website set up for Bean’s recovery, and that the incident happened around 10 p.m.

Lange said climbers at the wall used a belay system, which relies on a person on the ground feeding rope out to allow a climber to ascend the wall. The system is designed to prevent climbers that may fall from falling very far, but Lange said something slipped.

“I was just going back to grab my water bottle when he landed a foot in front of me,” he said.

However, Lange said Bean seemed aware of what was happening after the fall.

“Right after he hit [the floor] he was conscious, aware, and reactive,” he said. “He had good feeling in his toes and good grip strength.”

Bean suffered various injuries from the fall, including two crushed vertebrae which threatened to paralyze him, Bean’s brother told The Daily Iowan Sunday evening.

“He’s in a lot of pain, but he feels fortunate that he’s able to move his arms and legs,” said Josh Bean. “If a bone from his crushed vertebrae had pushed 1 millimeter farther into his spinal cord, he would’ve been in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.”

According to checkonspencer.wordpress.com — a blog website set up for Bean — he underwent surgery on Nov. 8 lasting eight hours. Spinal fluid built up in Bean’s back, and it will need to be drained over a period of four to five days in order to prevent further injury. Josh Bean said he expects the recovery process to last until Wednesday.

Indoor rock climbing incidents are not entirely rare.

An analysis of data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System for all ages between 1990 and 2007 found that more than 40,000 patients were treated in emergency departments for climbing-related injuries during the 18-year period. This equated to roughly 2,237 injuries annually.

Josh Bean says his brother’s attitude will help him through.

“He is keeping a great attitude,” he said. “He knows it’s a long road to recovery, but all the support from his friends and family have been helping him tons. Spencer is a really tough guy.”

UI senior John Rohrer, Spencer Bean’s roommate, said he usually climbs with his roommate, a finance major from Highland Park, Ill. However, he wasn’t with him on the night of the accident.

“He’s very happy-go-lucky and energetic,” Rohrer said. “He’s just a fun-loving kid.”

Rohrer also said Bean works at the Rec Center and goes climbing there three or four times a week.
Lange, as a climber himself, said people have to understand the risks of the sport.

“Overall, it’s an extreme sport, and there’s a certain amount of risk you take when you climb,” he said. “Stuff like this happens. If there were no danger, it wouldn’t be an extreme sport.”


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