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September 2017    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 43, No. 9   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Was This That Hidden Killer?

from the September, 2017 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Undercurrent (August) revealed the dangers of Immersion Pulmonary Edema and the research into its effects by diving medics in both Britain and Singapore. Since we wrote that story, several deaths have occurred that look strangely like IPE. The precise incidence is unknown, because fatal cases can be, and probably have been in the past, mistaken for drowning. In both IPE and drowning, the lungs are waterlogged and heavy, so post-mortem findings can be similar. In IPE, the lung alveoli fill with edema fluid. Immersion causes increased hydrostatic pressure, which immediately causes redistribution of blood from the periphery to the chest.

To repeat what we wrote, "An important indication that a diver had IPE is that they believed that their equipment was not working properly, even though later tests confirmed that the equipment was fine. If a diver is seen unnecessarily switching between their demand valves or uses a buddy's secondary air supply, or if a diver with a re-breather is [seen repeatedly] purging the system, [it] may indicate the onset of IPE."

On July 30, an experienced scuba diver died after having difficulty breathing while in the water off Percé, Quebec. According to provincial police, when the man started showing signs of difficulty, a woman with him tried to offer air from her own regulator, but the man continued to struggle to breathe despite having air in his tank.

Angelia Dover (43) died at Lake Keowee, SC, on July 29 while diving at a depth of 50 feet (12m). Her two companions said she appeared to suddenly panic and attempted to make for the surface. Her equipment appeared to be functional and she had not run out of air, yet the Boiling Springs woman appeared to have died from drowning.

On July 30, former Mississippi State Supreme Court Justice Chuck McRae was sent to intensive care at a Cozumel hospital, after he appeared to panic at 20 feet (6m), let go of his regulator because he thought he could not breathe from it and aspirated a lot of water. He was later conscious and an MRI scan showed no brain damage. He recovered.

The 50-acre lake that is Dutch Springs, Bethlehem, PA, is fed by an aquifer to provide excellent visibility, though the water can be cold. On August 4, a 57-year-old Staten Island man had been in the water for around 45 minutes before he was reported missing by those he was diving with. He was later found dead. Was this another case of IPE?

The well-known British cameraman we mentioned in the original article, who first survived an IPE in 2015, has had another incident since and has decided to give up underwater work.

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