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March 2008    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 23, No. 3   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Donald Sutherland Claims Diving Is a No-No Past Age 50

from the March, 2008 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Actor Donald Sutherland believes diving nearly killed him. After learning how to dive at the Great Barrier Reef for his role in the movie Fool’s Gold, the 72-year-old actor suffered severe chest pains, but doctors could find nothing wrong. Still, the pain remained and Sutherland coughed up blood the next day. His doctor asked if he had been scuba diving, and Sutherland told London’s Evening Standard, “I replied that I had and he said, ‘You have a broken blood vessel in your lung.’ Then he told me I shouldn’t have been scuba-diving beyond the age of 50.”

The medical advice Sutherland got sounded like total b.s. to us, so we ran his story by Ernest Campbell, M.D., founder of the Internet blog Scubadoc. “I was astounded at the misstatements involved,” he said. “It’s doubtful the episode was related to his scuba diving, although we know nothing about his dive history and time intervals between the dives, his flight back and his episode.”

Diving injuries due to pulmonary overpressure usually lead to a ruptured blood vessel immediately during the dive ascent instead of showing up several days later, Campbell explained. “Pulmonary barotrauma shows up as a painful collapsed lung, which would have been apparent on the initial chest x-ray and exam, not as a hemorrhagic mass that is coughed up.”

Thousands of divers age 50 and older dive safely every day. There is no “rule” that states age is any deterrent to diving, when done sensibly. For more about health and the older diver, see Campbell’s blog on the subject at

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