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My son didn’t have to die

Randall Sawyer

Randall Sawyer

photo

Randall Sawyer

By LEANDRA ROLLE

Tribune Staff Reporter

lrolle@tribunemedia.net

A GRIEVING family in Abaco wants the government to better equip the island with the resources needed to treat divers suffering from the bends after their loved one is believed to have died from symptoms associated with the illness last week.

Randall Sawyer, 16, of Cherokee Sound died early Friday morning shortly after he was airlifted to New Providence with symptoms linked with decompression sickness or the bends.

The bends is caused by rapid changes in pressure while diving and can prove fatal.

 In an interview with The Tribune yesterday, Rochelle Sawyer, the deceased teen’s mother, said she believed her son could have survived if the island had had a decompression chamber to treat the bends.

“Abaco is in bad shape for healthcare,” she said in an emotional interview. “If there had been a chamber here, they could have put my child in within an hour, my child would have lived.

“Bends happen all the time.”

According to Mrs Sawyer, her son was an experienced diver who started to feel ill at sea on Thursday while he was out spear fishing with a friend.

 “He left that morning about 8.30 to go in the boat as normal spearing fish and when he got back in the boat - and, of course, he was using a compressor - when he got back in the boat, (I was told) that he said he had a headache,” she said.

 “It was two of them diving together and they were on the land so they figured they been in the heat all day and needed to eat and drink something because you’re exhausted.

 “When he got in, he also told one of his friends that he had a pain in his left arm and so they quickly went to the gas station, and they walked to go get a snack and something to drink before they cleaned their fish like they always do.”

 The concerned mother said her son decided to go home after his friends noticed that he did not look well.

 But as the teenager prepared to leave he collapsed.

 Mrs Sawyer said after being contacted about his condition while at work, she then called the ambulance for help.

 She said while Emergency Medical Service workers offered as much assistance as they could, she believed workers at the Marsh Harbour clinic could have responded to the emergency better if they had the proper resources.

 She also believed having her son evacuated to Nassau did not help the situation.

 “I kept asking them if they checked to see if a (decompression) chamber in The Bahamas is working and because people saying it’s not working and they said it’s working it’s always working,” she said.

 “.. and then the plane came in and they decided that they wanted to put my child on a ventilator, so they had to sedate him completely but at all times his vitals had been fine and everyone’s well aware that with the bends, you’re not supposed to fly high,” she said.

 “But the minute we got on the plane and the plane started to get airborne, my child’s pressure started to go through the floor and I could see the doctor is getting very nervous but she’s trying to console herself because I’m in front of her.”

 The Abaco resident said she started questioning the doctor as any concerned mother would, but said the medical worker tried to reassure her and told her that her son’s symptoms were not uncommon.

 After arriving in New Providence, she said her son eventually died.

 Recalling her last moments with him, she said: “PMH they tried their best, but then his heart started to stop so he coded like three times and they got his heart started, but then the fourth time when he coded, it was like 4 o’clock and he just was gone.”

 When contacted yesterday, Health and Wellness Minister Dr Michael Darville confirmed he was made aware of the case and said an investigation into the matter was ongoing.

 He also sent condolences to the family.

 As for reports about there being no decompression chambers in country, sources familiar with the situation said that was not true.

 The Tribune understands there is at least one decompression chamber located at Doctor’s Hospital - though it is said not to be operational.

 Sources said it should be back on stream before the end of the month.

 Meanwhile, the loving mother described her son as a person who was “full of life” and passionate about diving.

 “My child had a head on his body like he knew in life what he wanted,” Mrs Sawyer said. “My child was the bubbliest kid always.

 “I always feared my child getting bit by a shark because he dove in waters everyday, but I never feared that this would take my child.”

Comments

joeblow 3 months, 4 weeks ago

... while this is tragic, there are risks associated with every activity. Should the government be responsible for all imaginable contingencies that can occur in swimming, diving, driving, flying or drinking? It is insane to think so. How many cases of the bends do they have in Abaco annually to justify the cost of of a chamber and staffing it? Will anyone ever take personal responsibility for anything?

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Sickened 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Very valid points. This tragedy may have been avoided if the divers or parents knew the signs for the bends and took steps to get him to Nassau much quicker. If you've been on a compressor all day and these symptoms appear you don't ignore them and clean your fish. If you do then that's on you. Very sad outcome.

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DiverBelow 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Spearfishing with a compressor? is as dangerous as with a scuba tank. Legal in Florida, legal in Bahamas? Very efficient, its no surprise Florida is barren. Predators love to steal from you... Even with a recompression chamber, who will you blame for the embolism?

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LastManStanding 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Yet the government has enough money to hand out political settlements like candy and pay Rodney Moncur a big paycheque to do nothing. Abaco is the boating capital of the Bahamas, I think that the cost is well justified considering the volume of diving activity in the area. Nobody cares until it affects them or someone that they know.

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SP 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Very sad situation. Condolences to his family and friends.

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cliffgpinder 3 months, 4 weeks ago

The loss of life is very sad.

The nature of this incident, however, falls squarely on the diver: the use of compressed air comes with risk and divers should learn the safety measures necessary to avoid the bends. Yes, those measures do require a period of inactivity - safety stops in the accent after a long dive - which seems to be juxtaposed to the rush for crawfish tails. Randall Sawyer was said to be an experienced diver: I know of many divers with years of experience yet very few can tell me a dive profile within safety limits.

As a recreational scuba diver of 25+ years I cannot fill my tank without showing a diver's licence, which is granted after successfully completing a safety diving course (a series of theory - written tests AND a practical open water tests). Is such education/ testing/ regulation in place for diving with a compressor? That I do not know but I suggest we start looking there. Everything cannot be pinned on Government to fix; everything is not Government's problem.

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crawdaddy 3 months, 4 weeks ago

He may have had the bends but me thinks it could have been an embolism, which is life threatening. No amount of recompression chambers should replace qualified diving instruction and training. Was he certified? Did he panic and ascended too quickly? Did he stay down too long and get decompression sickness? Questions should be attempted to get answers to help prevent more divers suffering the same fate. Education, technique and safety need to be utmost when diving with compressors. Did he even have a compressor license? Condolences to the grieving family, what a huge loss.

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tribanon 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Doesn't the Lyford Cay Clinic have a decompression chamber? If so, why didn't they rush him there?

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becks 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Apparently both the Lyford Cay and Freeport chambers are not working.

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Bobsyeruncle 3 months, 4 weeks ago

I thought you were not supposed to fly after long periods of diving, due to the sudeen change (decrease) in air pressure. My guess would be that the flight to Nassau made matters worse for the poor kid.

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tribanon 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Low altitude flight wouldn't have mattered much, assuming the pilot was thinking and weather permitted.

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Flyingfish 3 months, 4 weeks ago

This is a sad situation but is one of the struggles archipelagic nations face. It is impossible for us to concentrate medical or any resources throughout the country with our economics. This just makes realize the importance the air ambulance is.

I hope the government would construct a plan approach to health care distribution for the Northern, Central, and Southern Bahamas. As well as upgrade the Air Ambulance services Furthermore they need to subsidize the Air Ambulance so no one should pay over $1000. Because people in the Family Islands shouldn't have to break the bank just to go to the hospital.

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becks 3 months, 4 weeks ago

So this is tragic and condolences to the family. However I have to wonder, although the article says he “was an experienced diver” that does not mean he had any actual training in diving with compressed air, the dive tables or the signs of compression sickness. Secondly, can 16 year olds even get a license that allows them to dive and hunt using a compressor? I know that when we first got the compressor in Lyford Cay that 99% of the cases of “bends” were “ experienced commercial “ divers who had almost no training about dive tables.

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The_Oracle 3 months, 4 weeks ago

So for the record, there were two Decompression chambers in the Bahamas in years past: Autec in Andros, and BASRA Grand Bahama had one at Unexo, a private dive operation. Both of these saved many a divers life from the 70's through the 90's. Decompression chambers get derated as they get older, and eventually the FReeport chamber owned by BASRA, a volunteer non profit, had to decommission their chamber. No funding was available for another new one. Autec, for some reason I believe stopped treating people from outside of their own operations, for whatever reason. I will stand corrected as to the why of that development. It too may have been derated to the point of non operational status. Of more concern is shallow water blackout which is a different animal, I believe of far more danger to casual and commercial divers. Scuba rating should be required of all commercial divers and especially those using compressors, but that is for discussion by those more involved than I. Diving is dangerous. Always sad when someone is lost in this way.

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becks 3 months, 3 weeks ago

So this is tragic and condolences to the family. However I have to wonder, although the article says he “was an experienced diver” that does not mean he had any actual training in diving with compressed air, the dive tables or the signs of compression sickness. Secondly, can 16 year olds even get a license that allows them to dive and hunt using a compressor? I know that when we first got the Hyperbaric recompression chamber in Lyford Cay that 99% of the cases of “bends” that were sent to it were “ experienced commercial “ divers who had almost no training about dive tables. Apparently it is not functional now.

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DJBarr 3 months, 3 weeks ago

There is still a lot more information needed. How deep was he diving and for how long?

In order to get "bent" you have to exceed the allowable minutes at that depth. But if the diver ran out of air on the bottom (compressor quit or ran out of fuel) and held his breath while surfacing, the the expansion of air in his lungs would have likely caused an embolism (Air bubble in the bloodstream).

That seems to be a likely scenario. Not sure if a dive chamber would have been able to save him.

All certified divers are taught to continually exhale during ascent to relieve the pressure caused by air expansion.

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BahamaRed 3 months, 3 weeks ago

But with an air embolism he most likely would have collapsed sooner. From what the mother described sounds like Type II DCS, and that would required using a hyperbaric chamber. He most likely based on this report was saturated after diving deep all day, and probably didn't follow the dive tables for his limits. Sadly the mother is right, a chamber should have been working, especially on an island like Abaco where there are many commercial fisherman. So tragic and unnecessary this young man's death.

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