Friends rescue man paralyzed while diving into Vancouver Island river

A story of survival is surfacing from the waters of a mid-Island river.

Cameron Thompson was swimming with friends in Courtenay's Puntledge River last weekend, when he decided to dive head-first into a part of the river that was familiar to him.

A strong swimmer, Thompson knew what was below the surface. Or, he thought he did.

“I feel like he made a decision and the river tricked him," said Thompson's aunt Brenda Payne.

Shadows on the water caused him to misjudge his jump. He hit the bottom and broke his neck in two places.

"It all just happened so quickly," said Tara Jakubiec, who was swimming with Thompson on the day of the accident.

"Everything changed in a matter of seconds," Jakubiec added. "Right after he hit the water, we started sensing something was wrong."

Trained in CPR and rescue tactics, his friends jumped into action. They pulled him out of the water and discovered that he had no feeling in his limbs.

Paralyzed, but alive, Thompson was rushed to a hospital in Vancouver for treatment. His family is now fundraising to support him through what is expected to be a long road to recovery. 

The family is also encouraging everyone to be trained in lifesaving measures.

"If we were any less prepared, it's devastating to think what could've happened," said Jakubiec.

“They saved his life and did everything they could to give him the best chance at recovery," said Payne. "I’m so proud of them.”

With files from CTV News Vancouver Island's Scott Cunningham