Delayed Evacuation Almost Cost Diver Full Recovery

Time is of the essence in dive emergencies: If proper treatment is delayed for an extended period, a diver’s chance of full recovery diminishes. Complications can arise when traveling to remote destinations where accessing appropriate care requires hours-long boat rides or long road trips.

In these situations, DAN membership and insurance can be a lifeline, helping you access both accurate information and evacuation services to help you get to a reputable medical facility.

Safety-conscious June and her partner were vacationing in the South Pacific. Although they planned their dive, they encountered strong downdraft currents that quickly pulled them and their guide down to 96 feet. As they tried to stop their descent, they soon encountered an upward current that carried them to the surface. The dive lasted only three minutes.

The guide suggested they try again, and the trio dived for nearly an hour at 71 feet. They had a long surface interval and dived again to a maximum depth of 80 feet. They tried a third dive later in the day and faced strong currents again.

As June returned to the boat after the third dive, she immediately felt severe pain in her neck and shoulder — she knew something was very wrong. June lost mobility in her left arm, hand, and fingers. She and her companions were concerned about decompression sickness (DCS) or a stroke. They contacted DAN right away.

The on-call medic suggested that June be taken back to shore to the closest medical facility. After a five-hour boat ride they reached the dock, and June and her partner got into a taxi for an hours-long trip through the pouring rain on winding roads. June’s condition worsened; she lost feeling in both feet.

They arrived at the hospital very late only to discover that the hyperbaric physician was not on the premises. June’s partner urged hospital staff to bring in the doctor and then called DAN again. With painful joints and numbness in her arms and legs, June’s condition was deteriorating when the doctor arrived at 2:30 a.m. The doctor said he could not administer hyperbaric treatment until the nurse arrived later in the morning.

But the phone call to DAN was enlightening: The medic advised that the chamber at the hospital where they were not complied with recommended upgrades. Now that June had been examined by medical staff and they had ruled out serious, non-diving-related medical problems, DAN undertook a transfer of the couple to the closest appropriate hyperbaric chamber facility.  

A few hours later the couple boarded an air ambulance and were evacuated to Auckland, New Zealand. After a four-and-a-half-hour flight, the couple arrived at the navy hospital close to midnight. June was still suffering, and it had been 32 hours since the onset of her symptoms. She was hungry and exhausted.

Doctors were worried that the delays in treatment could mean a long and incomplete recovery, but they worked quickly to get June into a chamber.

After just six hours, June could move her hands and arms slightly — a  good sign. Additional treatments kept helping, and June continued to improve, undergoing seven treatments in all. A few weeks after the treatments, June still had problems with coordination, balance, and strength, but continued to work with a neurophysiologist who helped her regain confidence and independence.

“Never get in the water with a tank on your back without having DAN insurance. DAN helped us get through the ordeal seamlessly: They got a doctor on the line and continually called us back throughout the first night,” said June. “They helped us make decisions … I am deeply grateful to be alive and moving normally. I love my husband and family beyond words and will never take them for granted again.”

For only US$40 per year for an individual or US$60 per year for a family, DAN takes the guesswork out of emergency logistics. Once a member calls the 24/7 hotline, DAN arranges whatever care is needed — including evacuations and complex air travel arrangements if necessary. Behind the scenes, DAN specialists coordinate medical care and transportation with local agencies, and in dive emergencies, DAN medical staff can even consult with local physicians who may not be familiar with dive medicine.

With more than 40 years of experience managing emergencies around the globe, DAN ensures you get to fully enjoy your travels. Learn more about the benefits of being a DAN member.