Don’t Let Evacuation Logistics Delay Recovery

As a dive professional you understand that 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. You have policies and procedures in place to ensure an injured diver gets the care they need in a reasonable amount of time.

But there are factors outside your control that can create delays in care. As a dive professional, it’s up to you to consider what might go wrong. It’s also important for you to communicate with your students the importance of dive accident insurance to be prepared for anything. When dive injuries and evacuation complications arise, DAN membership and insurance can be a lifeline, helping your students access both accurate information and evacuation services to help them 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.”

Remind your students that DAN dive accident insurance is available only to DAN members, and it covers accidents and injuries related to diving and many other water sports as well as non-diving-related accidents and injuries. Coverage starts at just US$40/year, and from day one DAN helps take the guesswork out of emergency logistics. Once a member calls the 24/7 hotline, DAN works to ensure they get the care they need. Behind the scenes, DAN specialists coordinate medical care and transportation with local agencies, and in dive emergencies, DAN medical staff can even offer consultations to treating physicians who are not familiar with dive medicine.

With its sterling reputation, DAN fully understands the needs of divers and snorkelers. Learn more about the benefits of dive accident insurance and DAN membership. Not sure how to talk to your students about DAN? Put their minds at ease with these talking points.