Yachtsman Suffers Stroke, Evacuated by DAN

DAN member evacuated from remote location

Reported Story

After traveling by sailboat to many remote islands around the Caribbean for five years, my wife and I were on our way from the coast of Guatemala to the Rio Dulce River in our 44′ sailboat. As we were approaching the sand bar at the entrance to the river, my face became flushed and I had an enormous headache. While trying to navigate the entrance to the river, I found that I could not focus on the compass to stay on course. I felt like my eyes were crossing so I couldn’t steer properly. The next thing I knew, I was on a panga (a small dugout style motorboat used throughout Central & South America) headed for the local hospital (clinic) in Livingston.

When I passed out, my wife had taken the wheel and headed back out to sea so we wouldn’t run aground. She found three young men in the panga and yelled for them to help. They lifted me out of the sailboat into the panga. One of them stayed on the sailboat to take it into Livingston. The other two stayed with me in the panga. When we arrived at the hospital, the nurses and doctors immediately began examining me. I was conscious but very groggy (out of it). After a period of time, the doctors thought I had either had a heart attack or a stroke. This hospital was really nothing more than a clinic to treat locals for minor illnesses. The doctors told my wife they needed to give me some aspirin in case I might have had a heart attack. They sent her down the street to the pharmacy to purchase the aspirin as they did not have any in the clinic.

After consultations with others in the clinic, the doctor decided that I needed to be transported to Guatemala City, a 5-hour overland trip. They began calling around town to see if someone had a car to transport me in. At that time, my wife called DAN. After consultation with DAN doctors and the local doctors, DAN decided that I should be medevacked back to the US since the local doctors were not sure what was causing the seizure. Since my condition had stabilized, DAN advised us that a plane would be sent by 12:30 p.m. the next day to pick me up. Around 12:15 p.m., I was worried that we had not heard from DAN and asked my wife if we should call them again. Then before she could make a call, a doctor and a medic from DAN walked into the clinic and announced, “We’re here to take you home”.

Livingston does not have an airport and the nearest location was five hours away in Guatemala City. So DAN had arranged with the Guatemalan army to land on an Army Base 30 minutes away by boat. They had arranged to have a boat ready to take us to the army base where a Lear Jet awaited. The plane had to make a stop in Tikal to clear customs and then headed directly for Florida, our home. When we arrived at the airport, DAN had arranged for customs to be there to clear us and had an ambulance waiting to take us to the hospital.

When we arrived at the hospital, the local emergency room staff was waiting for us and immediately took us to a room they had prepared for us in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). The DAN doctor and medic did not leave until the ICU staff had me hooked up to all the machines and the hospital nurses and doctors were responsible for my care.

It was amazing to see the efficiency and effort that DAN had employed to get me safely back home to a “real” hospital.


The DAN medical team staff the call center 24-hours a day and receive calls from all over the world, from divers and non divers, and members and non-members needing assistance and/or information. In this case, DAN Membership and DAN Insurance made a difference in the quality of care this member received. If divers intend visiting a remote destination then, as this member discovered, good insurance coverage can prove to be a life saver.

Peter Buzzacott, MPH, Ph.D.