Accidents happen, even on mellow dives, and getting the right medical care can be imperative. It’s important to remind your students that if they are ever in a situation where they need emergency medical evacuation — dive-related or otherwise — Divers Alert Network® membership has them covered. But membership is only useful if it is kept up to date.
Jim accidentally let his DAN membership lapse after moving, and it was not at the forefront of his mind when he next dived during a trip to Mexico. He and his dive buddy Terry were experienced divers, and the 30-minute, 100-foot dive was uneventful, aside from an abbreviated safety stop.
Back on board the boat, Jim thought his tight wetsuit seemed harder to remove than usual — especially around the arm and leg cuffs. Out of the wetsuit, Jim felt strange and could not get comfortable, and 30 minutes later his legs felt rubbery. Powering through, he went home and took a nap.
But Jim’s symptoms worsened after wakening. His gait was wobbly, and he couldn’t keep his balance. He called DAN, and after establishing the facts of his case he was instructed to go to the nearest medical facility. Jim’s symptoms seemed extreme considering his dive profile, and his unstable gait may have been an indication of a stroke.
Jim was escorted to the hospital by Terry, and Jim’s legs were developing a spreading numbness. Jim called DAN again, and the DAN medic spoke directly to the doctor. Jim was admitted overnight, and tests were scheduled for the following morning.
The next morning Jim awoke with zero feeling in the lower half of his body, so the doctor ordered a CT scan. Jim could no longer walk. A stroke was ruled out, but the local doctor’s working diagnoses were a parasitic infection or a neurological disorder. DAN was contacted for a third time, and decompression illness was suggested (the local doctor was not familiar with dive injuries). DAN suggested it was time to evacuate Jim to the United States for hyperbaric treatments.
Jim was evacuated to the University of California at San Diego (USCD) Medical Center and started his first hyperbaric treatment that day; it lasted seven hours. According to Jim’s doctors, treatment would take time, and he stayed there for several days undergoing treatment before regaining the ability to walk. Unfortunately some symptoms still persisted. After five days, Jim was well enough to receive outpatient treatments, stay at a hotel and undergo several more days of treatments.
After a week at the center and 10 total hyperbaric treatments, Jim was given the news that he could return home to Arizona and continue healing on his own. The best news: He could eventually return to diving after a full recovery and with some future adjustments.
“Sometimes it still seems incredible to me that I went from the prospect of never walking again to being this far along the road to recovery,” said Jim. “I may never know why my symptoms came on as severely as they did, but I know one thing for certain: Without the care I received when I called for help, the outcome would likely have been a disaster.”
And Jim saw firsthand the incredible importance of being a DAN member. While his lapsed membership status did not impact the consultations and support he got from DAN, DAN could not cover the $22,000 cost of his evacuation.
“Needless to say, I am once again a DAN Member,” he said.
For only US$35 per year for an individual or US$55 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 an evacuation if necessary. Behind the scenes, DAN staff 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 in remote locations, DAN is much more than an insurance company. Learn more about talking to your students about DAN membership.