By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
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.”