Only Hyperbaric Chamber in Hawaii is Not Accepting Patients

Have you actually thought about what you would do if you experienced symptoms of decompression sickness (DCS) or decompression illness (DCI)?

Would you call 911 or do you have the Divers Alert Network (DAN) emergency hotline number available?

Both are viable options depending on where you are diving. The most important thing is to have a plan before you get in the water! So what happens if the Hyperbaric Treatment Center (HTC) that you rely on is not in operation when you need it the most? The divers across the Hawaiian Islands are currently in this predicament.

Over the past month or so, since I received the call saying that the Kuakini HTC will not be treating patients for a period of time, I have been asked by many fellow divers why we “shut down”, and what to do in the event a diver experiences symptoms of DCS or DCI? Well, I cannot give medical advice so I would recommend to call DAN and emergency medical services as usual.

As far as why we shut down, well, that is a bit more difficult to answer and would probably depend on who at the Kuakini HTC you asked. From a fellow diver’s perspective who happens to spend some time working at the HTC I do not think we should have shut down, yet due to bureaucracy the HTC is not treating any cases for a hopefully short period of time. A lack of physicians coupled with bureaucracy has now eliminated the emergency plan for most divers across the Hawaiian Islands. Many scientific diving programs and military dive programs are unable to dive due to the lack of support at the HTC.

Sadly, there have been a number of reported DCS cases which were unable to receive recompression treatment during this temporary shutdown. The part that I feel is important to the dive community, recreational through scientific divers, both across the Hawaiian Islands and the nation is what can we do to help prevent future shutdowns.

I want to clarify: my position in all of this is foremost as a diver who is primarily concerned with the safety of other divers. I am not writing this for anybody’s profit to include my own. I am only writing in an attempt to clarify and to keep divers informed.

First, the Kuakini HTC is not going away, the shutdown is only temporary.

Second, I would like to pass on information about how we, all divers, can help support our local HTC’s which do so much for both our diving and medical communities. I am sure some of you who are reading this have recently received emails from DAN discussing the recompression chamber assistance program (RCAP) which helps recompression chambers across our diving community. Here on the islands the University of Hawaii Foundation provides a similar means of support through charitable donation that can be specific to our HTC at Kuakini.

Did I mention through both of these programs the donations are tax deductible? Most divers will thankfully not experience DCS or DCI, yet undeserved hits (diving within a safe profile and still experiencing the bends) happens more often than one would think. Wouldn’t you like to know that the HTC in your area is fully operational the next time you and your loved ones go diving? For further information about these programs please visit www.dan.org and www.uhfoundation.org reference hyperbaric treatment center, account number 120-8820-4.

by Brian Warner. He is an Oahu-based underwater photographer, closed circuit rebreather diver and Army veteran who is passionate about diver safety and exploring the underwater domain. To see his photography work, please visit his Pacific Edge Photography website.

Leave a Reply