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Chamber Diaries: Road to DCI & PFO Recovery

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Welcome to the second part of this diver’s road to recovery, with kind permission to publish.

After 1,000 dives, what had I done differently? What had I done ‘wrong’ on this day of diving had I not allowed a sufficient surface interval between the dives? Or was my body trying to tell me there was a more-serious underlying issue that I was about to discover?

During the week spent at Midlands Diving Chamber going in for each day for recompression treatment, I was able to speak with the Doctor, who suggested I look at getting a test called a Bubble Echo to see whether I had a Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO), or more affectionally referred to as a ‘hole in the heart’!

I reached out to the team at One Welbeck Hospital starting with a Bubble Echo; a simple procedure that injects saline with microscopic bubbles into your arm while monitoring your heart via a type of ultrasound to see if the bubbles move across your heart. The bubbles flurried across the screen monitoring me, and the Doctor simply said, “yep, that’s a positive PFO!”

The next step was probably the one I was most nervous about, but a month and a half later, and I was back at the hospital, this time for a bit of a closer inspection of the heart with a procedure called a Transoesophageal Echocardiography (or a TEO). This involved popping me to sleep and putting a small camera down my throat for a bit more of a detailed look. The good news was the hole in my heart was suitable for a ‘cocoon’ device, which the doctor liked to call an umbrella.

Two weeks later, with the pre-op checks all done, closing the hole in my heart involves an incision in my groin into femoral artery all the way to the heart before deploying the umbrella to pop into the space where the hole is.

Recovery was as seamless as I could have hoped, a couple of dressing changes, limited mobility, and a few blood-thinning pills and four weeks later, I was back at hospital for another bubble echo to see how my heart and the umbrella were getting acquainted. Down I lay again, but with a different amount of apprehension, this time wondering to what extent my heart had accepted or rejected the foreign object.’ “all good news, it’s closed. There’s no reason for you to come back here and I see no reason why you can’t go back to diving’. I’ve never felt my breath slow as much as it did in that moment, as I realised, I knew I was fixed, I could go back to the very thing that has inspired me and been a passion for 16 years of my life, I would be able to teach and share this wonderful passion with others once again -Ican scuba dive once again!

As I sit here writing this, two weeks after that meeting with the doctor, and four days away from taking the giant stride back into the water, I sit here nervous, not because I won’t remember to dive, but nervous how my mind will handle being on a safety stop, not knowing what will happen. I intend to take it easy for the first couple of months both in and out of the water, building back up to tech diving at depth, and making sure I have time on the surface for my body to recover, and relax, between dives.

Midlands Diving Chamber has a DCI emergency/advice line open 24 hours/7 days, for all other enquiries, please use the landline during office hours 01788 579555. If you’re passing, please pop in – the kettle is always on!

Emergency tel no: 07931 472602 | Landline: 01788 579555.

Midlands Diving Chamber, Redmond House, Hospital of St Cross, Barby Road, Rugby, Warwickshire, CV22 5PX.


This article was originally published in Scuba Diver UK #72

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