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Diver Down – a True Adventure

Editor Note: I felt it necessary to raise an issue that is only lightly touched upon in scuba dive training classes. The full extent of what it means to get decompression sickness (DCS). Alabama Freediver Mike Wade recounts his ordeal in great detail, and was a real eye opener for me. I hope for those of you reading this who practice scuba, that you will become even more aware of your actions when diving.

It had been a long hot spring afternoon. The day was June 9, 1995. I heard over the radio that the heat index was 111 degrees. Phew! What a day to be a mailman. Upon completing my route I returned to the post office to a message that one of my dive buddies had called. I anxiously returned his call. "Let’s make a night dive" Sharky said. "What time do you want to leave" I asked. "As soon as you fill the boat with divers" he replied. "I’ll get right back to you" I answered. It took less than an hour to find a couple of eager divers. It would be James Stokes and Jody Badillo. Both from Mobile, Alabama.

We agreed to meet at the Dauphin Island public boat launch, otherwise known as "Billy Goat Hole", between 6:00 and 6:30 p.m.

My wife Robin and I arrived soon after Sharky. We loaded our gear and awaited the arrival of James and Jody. They soon arrived and off we went. It was a beautiful afternoon as we headed due south in a 21′ Cape Horn purchased two months earlier by Sharky.

Sharky is a Chief Petty Officer stationed at the Coast Guard Station in Pascagoula, Mississippi. He had just recently been voted into our dive club – The Current Divers. We were all smiles anticipating our upcoming dive. It took less than an hour to reach our first dive location. We would be diving on old sunken bridge rubble. James and Jody would be making the first dive. Sharky and I helped them gear up and made a final safety check. Air on, lights working, fins, weight belts etc. They rolled over the side and down they went. It was getting dark so Sharky and I readied our gear. Robin, Sharky and I sat and talked while we waited.

Soon we could see the lights as they came up the anchor rope. James up first, signs of fish on his pole gun. "All right!" I exclaimed. We got James in the boat, then Jody. Everything O.K. we pulled up the anchor and headed to our next destination. Our next dive would be on a spot called the Dauphin Island dry docks. This is an old dry docks taken out to sea years ago and sunk to a depth of 82′ to create an artificial fish reef. A good all around dive. After a double check of our gear, Sharky and I rolled in and headed down the anchor rope.

It looked like good times were here again. What I define as a flounder haven, was a delight to my eyes and lit up my senses. "Googly eyes" looking up, pole spear slamming down. The thrust of the flat fish trying to clear the bottom under the pressure of the spear tip was as exciting to me as shooting a large amberjack and being pulled rapidly down, mask vibrating, senses rushing. It is indeed another world below the surface.

We covered the area slowly so as not to miss a single sizable fish. Quick movement will spook the big ones. Movement must be slow and deliberate. The time to surface would come much too soon.

Our ascent was slow and careful.

Back at the boat James and Jody took their turn as dive tenders as we handed up our catch. "Mike, you really get the fish" I heard James say. "There is more where these came from" I replied. "This would be a good second dive for you guys" I added. He agreed, and they began to suit up.

One more gear check and they were over the side.

Sharky, Robin and I chatted during this time we call "surface interval". Surface Interval is the time needed at surface to off gas the nitrogen that accumulates in the body from breathing compressed air at depth.

It turned out to be a beautiful night. The stars were out and the moon was full. We called one of our dive buddies at home on the cellular phone just for kicks. "Hey Jack, we’re out here collecting a few Cowries and Junonias, wish you were here" we laughed. Spearfishermen joke about shell collecting while underwater hunting. Jack is my best friend. We’ve made hundreds of dives together and shot plenty of trophy fish, some worthy of mounting.

Sharky and I began to organize our gear and prepare for James and Jody to surface.

Diver up! Robin yelled. I could see the glow of the light coming up the anchor rope. Soon James was at the side of the boat. We helped him with his gear. He had shot a couple of fish, but not what I had expected. I looked at Sharky and he looked at me. We knew another dive would be worthwhile. By now it was approaching midnight.

After assisting our buddies into the boat, we began to prepare for our next dive. We checked our dive computers and determined that a total of 24 minutes could be spent at depth in order to stay within the no-decompression limits. We geared up, went through our safety routine and over we went. On bottom, we continued where we had left off on our prior dive. Working our way outward, we again began to see the flatboys. We moved steadily back and forth. They were scattered all along the sea floor.

I concentrated on looking for the "hoss", as our dive club was in the middle of its annual flounder tournament. It is a member only tournament. As president of the Current Drifters Dive Club, I longed to win another flounder tournament trophy. My last win was in 1987, with a 7 pound 4 ounce flounder. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a big red snapper. I moved my light away, holding it tight against my wet suit and swam to intersect the fish in the dark. I cocked my pole gun and at the right moment shined my light back in the direction of the fish. In an instant, she darted away. "That would have been a good catch," I thought. I continued my dive, swimming over towards Sharky’s light. He looked like he was doing fine. I signaled to him that I was going to surface. He acknowledged. I swam to the anchor and removed it from the wreckage to avoid a hang. I checked my computer and began to surface. My computer showed 20 minutes actual bottom time. I moved slowly up the anchor line, keeping an eye on my dive computer. Everything looked good. Looking down, I saw Sharky about 10 feet below, coming up also. We continued up the line. I could see the bottom of the boat coming into view. Just as always, I let go of the anchor rope and drifted to the stern towards the ladder. As I surfaced, no one was aware that I was there, so I rapped my spear on the side of the boat to get someone’s attention. James soon appeared. "Here’s my gun," I said. He promptly took it and put it in the boat.

A sudden tired feeling began to overcome me. "Take my gear" I said, "I’m too tired to climb out with it on". I unbuckled my tank and BC and attempted to hand it up. "I can’t reach it," he said. "I’ll push harder" I replied. One more effort. "I got it," he said. He then took my weight belt and fish. An extreme feeling of fatigue was setting in. "Man, I am worn out, let me catch my breath" I exclaimed to James. As I tried to bend over to remove my fins, it happened. My body became stiff as a board, like someone had hit me in the small of the back with a baseball bat.

"I can’t bend to get my fins off I said to James. At this time, I released the ladder and begin to drift. Attempting to swim back to the ladder, I realized that I was actually swimming away from the boat. Stopping immediately, I yelled to James, "throw me a rope". James threw the line, missing me by inches. I could not get to the rope. By this time, I was losing every ounce of energy left in my body. I began to sink. I held my breath and struggled to reach the surface. I raised my arms to my shoulders and managed to propel upwards. Gasping for breath, I yelled, "hurry up, throw the rope". James was frantically retrieving the rope that he had just thrown. Once again, I started sinking, this time with no air in my lungs. Below the surface, looking up, I began to swallow the seawater to keep from drowning. I looked down into the depths. A demon appeared just below me about 15′ away. "Let go, it’s over, go with the flow", it seem to be saying. I looked again to the surface, my arms weak. I struggled, barely able to lift my arms. I thought to myself, "Oh God, I am messed up". Then came a divine intervention. As if an angel lifted me to the surface, I breathed again. At that same time the rope came out, landing over my left shoulder and wrapped around my neck. "The rope is around his neck, Oh God, he’s drowning" I heard Robin cry out. I remember thinking, "I don’t care if the rope is around my neck, drag me to that boat". I managed to grip the rope with my right hand as they pulled my body to the boat. Amazingly, James summoned the strength to pull 210 pounds of dead weight from the water.

The next thing I remember is flopping into the boat, my body convulsing. I began to fade, then tuning in to Robin’s voice. "Mike, I love you, you’re going to be O.K. Don’t frown", I could hear her repeating. I could feel Gatorade being poured over my lips. All I could do was stick my tongue out to lick my lips. I drifted in and out of consciousness. I could hear Robin’s voice and Sharky on the telephone calling for assistance in the background.

The ride to shore was bumpy. I recall my head bouncing like a basketball as we topped the waves. Then blackout. I came to in the back of an ambulance. Oxygen had been administered, somewhat clearing my head. The paramedics were working frantically to save my life. They were trying to get an IV started, but my blood pressure was so low that they couldn’t find a vein. After several tries they finally succeeded. Blood was everywhere.

The next sounds I remember were the sounds of a helicopter’s rotors and voices discussing my condition. I was loaded into the chopper to be transported to a recompression chamber located at Springhill Memorial Hospital in Mobile. Once off the ground, I could hear the voices of the crew as they spoke. "Do you think he will make midway?" one asked. I thought to myself, "God, this is it, they don’t expect me to make it."

With renewed strength I began to breathe harder on my oxygen mask. I grabbed the bag and squeezed the oxygen into my lungs. I became more alert and gazed into the night. The moon was full and stars were everywhere. I prayed the Sinners Prayer.

In a short while, we landed at Springhill Memorial Hospital.

I was rushed to the emergency room and examined by Dr. T. Ashton Blessey. Dr. Blessey and the doctors at Divers Alert Network at Duke Medical Center conferred on my case and determined that I was suffering from a combination of decompression sickness (the Bends) and material gas embolism.

Decompression Sickness is the result of nitrogen bubbles being formed in body tissue when they are not off gassed properly, for whatever reason, during ascent. Gas embolism is what happens when the lungs over expand and rupture, releasing air into the blood vessels going to the heart and from the heart to the body. It was decided that I would undergo a U.S. Navy Table 6 recompression treatment immediately.

My right leg was paralyzed, my left leg had little movement and my insides felt disintegrated.

I was put into the chamber and taken to a depth of 60′. The purpose was to shrink the bubbles back into my bloodstream and surface slowly allowing the bubbles to off gas or exit naturally through my lungs. If a bubble were to block a major artery to my heart or brain, it could kill me.

For over 10 hours I was in shear agony. Still in shock, anxious and scared. I sweated profusely from every pore in my body. I felt like my life was going to end at any time.

Robin, with her angelic face, gave me strength to hang in there. Her beautiful smile warmed my heart and gave me hope.

I was still alive!

Later that afternoon, I was pulled from the chamber and examined once again. My condition had not changed, if anything, it had worsened. The table 6 treatment had failed.

Another consultation was in order.

All doctors agreed that a saturation dive would be my best hope for recovery. With time quickly running out, another decision had to be made. The closest facilities that could perform this type of saturation dive were in Durham, North Carolina or New Orleans, Louisiana. Durham is home of the well known Divers Alert Network located at Duke University. I asked Dr. Blessey what he knew of Jo Ellen Smith Medical Center in New Orleans. He replied that," it was run by Dr. Keith Van Meter, a world renown Hyperbaric Physician who routinely treated professional offshore divers". I quickly reasoned that the experts in hyperbaric medicine were located there. I felt they were capable of providing the necessary treatment by using the latest technology. I later learned that the Jo Ellen Smith Hyperbaric Unit in New Orleans is a world leader in HBO saturation treatments. I recall being wheeled back out through the emergency room to an awaiting ambulance. The number of people – loved ones and friends, standing outside the waiting area were unbelievable. There were at least fifty people crowding the waiting room. Family members that I haven’t seen in a long time were there to console and wish me well. Almost every Current Drifter Dive Club member was present. The love I felt that day was overwhelming.

Two hours later, I arrived at Jo Ellen Smith Medical Center. Dr. Jack Simanonok examined me. Dr. Simanonok works for Dr. Keith Van Meter, Chief of Hyperbaric Medicine. Dr. Van Meter is a recognized expert in this field. Quite honestly, I was impressed with everyone in this department doctors and technicians alike. Very professional.

After conferring on my condition, they agreed that I had Type II Decompression Sickness with signs of Air gas embolism. It was decided that a more aggressive treatment was needed.

Dr. Simanonok explained that I would be taken down to a depth of 165′ and left there until I began to show signs of improvement. A Charge Nurse volunteer would attend me. I’ll never forget her name; Pauline Cousins. We would be making the saturation dive together.

I signed the necessary releases and we entered the chamber at 9:39 p.m. Saturday night, June 10th.

Technicians, Randy Springer, Ken Pearson and John Wilson, worked the controls at the console. It was their job to insure that all gases were mixed properly and supplied according to doctor’s orders.

At 4:00 a.m. Sunday morning, I started showing signs of improvement. I raised my right leg off of the stretcher about 6". The camera was rolling. ‘Yeah!" "Al right!" I could barely hear Dr…….. Simanonok’s excitement through the thick steel walls of the chamber. His smiling face soon appeared in the porthole. A thumbs up sign was given. I acknowledged it.

Thus began my ascent at a rate of 3′ per hour.

Praying harder than before, I asked God for the strength of a hundred men. I knew that hundreds of people were praying for me. By this time I was on several church prayer lists.

I worked hard through the night. Every waking moment was spent praying and concentrating on movement. Wiggle toes, bend knee, breathe deep, work ankles, "Come on Mike you can do it", I thought to myself.

Pauline kept a steady check on my vital signs and was in constant communication with the doctors outside. I was given high doses of steroids and vitamins. I was allowed to sleep in six-hour intervals. Most of the waking time was spent breathing nitrox. Nitrox is an oxygen enriched gas mixture beneficial in the elimination of nitrogen, the culprit in my illness.

Meals and medication were passed through an air lock. The Styrofoam containers would give way to the pressure and look like crumpled up paper when they arrived. At 11:00 p.m. Sunday night, June 11th, I pulled myself up by grabbing various pipes overhead and sat up on the edge of the stretcher. I would swing my legs back and forth. I still had no sensory feeling in either leg or stomach. They were numb. Pauline reassured me that I could still improve.

We held at 100′ for twelve hours.

Robin would regularly come to see me and peer through the porthole. We would talk over a specially made telephone. I tried to maintain my composure so that she would not worry. At times it was hard. I felt so helpless. My Father-in-law, Jack McConnell, had driven down to keep her company. They both went days without sleep. Jack was a big help.

Monday morning, June 12th, my left leg began to get stronger, I could bend my knee and place my foot flat on the bed. This was a good sign. Twenty-four hours passed with very little improvement. I fought harder still. Wednesday, June 14th, at 8:00 a.m. Dr. Simanonok and Dr. Paul Hareh came to talk to me. They seemed pleased with my progress. My ascent rate had been slowed to 2′ per hour when I reached 30′ and was given 100% oxygen in intervals. Sometime during the night Pauline began experiencing pain in her leg. It was a real possibility that she could be receiving a mild case of decompression sickness herself. I felt concern for her but was helpless to do anything. She paced back and forth in the cramped quarters massaging the affected area. Occasionally her leg would give and she would come close to losing her balance as she walked it out. The doctors were aware of her problem and were assisting her as best they could. We would be surfacing soon. Three days had passed and I was able to stand up by holding onto the overhead piping, but I had no sense of balance. I thanked God for my healing and continued to pray. "I have got to walk out of this chamber" I said to God, "and I know you are going allow me to do it." I also prayed for Pauline’s full recovery. At 9:00 a.m. I began to prepare for my exit from the chamber. I sat on the edge of my stretcher and exercised my feet by putting pressure on the floor and working my ankles.

At 9:31 a.m. we surfaced. After 83 hours and 52 minutes it was time to see what condition my body was in.

The seal to the chamber was broken and the door swung open. I knew that my balance was off so I requested a walker. With the help of Technicians John Wilson and Brock Chamberlin to assist me with my balance, I stood up.

I grabbed the walker and began making my exit. I was shaky and weak, but determined. One small step, then another.

Five feet to go.

"I am going to walk out through that door", I said to myself. I placed the walker on the floor for balance and walked to it, then repeated the process.

Moments later, I walked through the exit door. "Praise God". I hugged and kissed my wife and was immediately put into a wheelchair. Dr. Paul Harch was waiting to examine me.

Back on a stretcher I went. A head to toe examination was done. Reflex tests, pinpricks and Q-tips. Hot and cold sensory tests. Many neurological examinations were performed. This was the most thorough examination yet. Dr. Harch ordered more tests.

I was able to stand but I walked like Frankenstein. I kept trying to fall to the right, an apparent sign of brain damage.

More hyperbaric treatments were ordered.

I was informed that I should never again breathe compressed gas. This meant no more SCUBA diving. I was heartbroken but humble.

It was now time to be admitted into the hospital.

Once again, family and friends made the trip to New Orleans to check on my condition. My mother, grandmother, aunt and close dive associates were there to cheer me on and pray for me.

Jack deVilliers and George Mitchell my two close dive buddies took time off from work and made the drive from Mobile to check on my condition and to take Robin to lunch. They returned with one of my favorite foods, a hamburger. After four days my appetite was returning. I ate the sandwich and waited for the administrative work to be done.

By nightfall I was finally given a room. My first order of business was to get a bath. I was transported by wheelchair to a handicap restroom where it took over forty five minutes to do what normally would have taken ten and that was with Robin’s help. My body was still in fragile condition. For the first time I was becoming frustrated.

I returned to my room and tried to sleep. Robin rested in a chair by my bed. Most of the night was spent in quiet thought as I listened to the patient in the bed on the other side of the room, recount stories of his son’s tour of duty in Vietnam. Some of what I overheard made my problems seem trivial. I dozed off.

The following morning was Thursday, day six, of my ordeal. Ken was bright and early, as he asked if I was ready for more treatment. I struggled to sit up in bed. ‘Yes" I replied. He wheeled me back to the chamber.

The treatments now being administered were follow up in nature. I would be taken down to 33 feet and given 100% oxygen to increase the blood circulation. The dives would take 90 minutes to complete. I would make two dives daily. During the time in the chamber I was able to sit up and move my legs. Stand if able.

Earlier, Pauline and I were located in the smaller end of the same chamber. It would only accommodate two persons.

This time we were in the larger part of the chamber. It could hold up to twelve persons sitting or six people on stretchers.

Other hospital patients were in the chamber also for treatments relating to diabetes. Pauline was also on this dive for follow up treatments for her ailment. An HBO nurse or technician would attend us on every dive. Nurses worthy of mention were Bea, Wanda and Thelma.

Technician, Ken Pearson, who also works in the experimental facility said that they were able to revive a pig with a fibrillating heart after 10 minutes of treatment. This hyperbaric technology is amazing!

After the dive, I was returned to my room.

For the next two days, I underwent a series of tests. Blood work, brain scans, ultrasound and the daily neurological grind by Dr. Harch. Dr, Harch seemed to have a special concern for my condition. He would soon be attending and lecturing with Dr. Keith Van Meter at a symposium in Florida. He said that the last diver treated with a serious injury such as mine did not walk for two years and that he wanted to share my progress with his colleagues. I was impressed and agreed.

My new mode of transportation was a wheelchair.

It was hard to believe that I was unable to walk and I refused to accept the fact that my condition would be permanent. The night before my accident I had hit two triples in a company softball game. I lived an active life and I was determined to live it again. Robin and I prayed daily for a full recovery. The telephone in my room rang constantly. Co-workers, family, friends and dive buddies were in instant communication.

People I had never heard of were calling.

Since I was past president and current treasurer of the Alabama Open Spearfishing Tournament, the dive community was also concerned. I conducted much of the tournament business. This fueled my desire to improve. I had a job to do. The tournament was scheduled for July 28, 29 and 30th. I planned to be there in a functional capacity.

Every morning and afternoon was set aside for therapy dives. Barring medical tests, the rest of the day was spent trying to walk and praying for miracles. I had daily visits from Neurologists.

Once a neurologist walked in my room and asked my wife if I was acting normal.

She said "yes", he turned and walked back out. So much for my opinion. Saturday morning came and I awoke feeling stronger. I felt anxious, I needed to get outside in the fresh air.

Robin pushed the wheelchair next to my bed. I climbed in and off we went. Outside it was a beautiful sunny day; the heat felt good. Behind the hospital was an eighth mile track and obstacle course for the hospital patients to use. Robin pushed me around the track She was getting more exercise than I was. Next to the track was a building with a privacy fence around it. I found out later that it was the experimental area Ken was talking about. Robin pulled me back to our room. Lunch was waiting.

That afternoon I requested a walker. I figured that if I could use one to walk out of the chamber, I may as well use one now. Later one was delivered to my room by a physical therapist. I was happy to have it and couldn’t wait to start using it. I thanked the nurse and waited for her to leave.

As soon as the door closed, I began to maneuver into position to use it. I grasped the handles firmly and stood up. Gingerly, I put it out in front of me and walked to it. "Open the door" I requested of Robin. She opened the door and out it I went. First the walker, then me, two steps behind.

The nurse’s station was located in the center and the rooms circled around it. I walked around the nurse’s station time and time again. I walked until my feet hurt, which didn’t take too long. Then I would return to my mom and collapse. My stamina was definitely not up to par.

Sunday morning I used the walker and walked around the hospital. Later, after treatment, Robin pushed ms to the track in the wheelchair. We talked and prayed.

She wheeled me around the track once, then I had a brainstorm. I stood up holding onto the chair. "Get in", I said to Robin. "I am going to push you". Using the chair for balance I started to push her. Every move was an effort. Within 20 feet I had broken into a sweat, but I was not giving up. My goal was to push her around one lap. I did it!

Exhausted and tired we returned to our room. Lunch was waiting. One thing for sure, this hospital takes care of its patients. I felt like we were at a first rate hotel receiving world class room service, complete with 55 cable channels. The only problem was I didn’t care for television.

Sunday night we watched movies. I tried to empty my mind of all negative thoughts.

Today was a good day.

Monday started a new week of therapy and more tests. After these tasks were performed, I was eager to get back to the track. It was there that I felt motivated the most.

In the meantime, I asked the nurse to order a walking cane. My opportunity to use it came later. I used the walker to get to the track. Once there, I took the cane in my right hand because that was the side I tended to lean to. I walked slowly around the track, falling only once. I forced myself to walk another lap. This time my goal was to not fall. I did it successfully.

My balance seemed to be slowly coming back.

The next day after therapy, I headed back to the track with Robin. I used the cane to get there and walked eight laps, the equivalent of one mile. I was extremely fatigued after this. It was all I could do to make it back to our room. I know that I was pushing it, but I had to continue to push harder. On the other side of the track was a big levy. Beyond the levy was the Mississippi River. My new goal was to walk up that levy and gaze across the river. It had been 10 days since my accident. Aside from the medical tests, my main interest now was to exercise my way back to health. So far it had paid off each and every day. I located an exercise bike and began to use it when I could. I continued to walked at least one mile daily with the cane over the next few days. On Sunday, June 25th, three days before my birthday, I tried the levy. With Robin by my side, I tried to walk up the hill without a cane. I was shaky at first, back stepping to keep from falling. I tried again, remembering my mistakes from the first attempt. Slowly I climbed; one step, then another. Suddenly I was at the top. Robin took my picture. We walked together down the levy watching the boat traffic and cargo ships float down the river. I knew at this point that I would be going home soon. Time to set new goals.

Unbeknownst to me the following day would be my final hyperbaric treatment in New Orleans.

Dr. Hareh agreed to release me if I would continue treatments in Mobile at Springhill Memorial Hyperbaric under his direction. I replied that "that is the only way I would agree to leave". Dr. Harch had directed most of my recovery and I had full confidence in his ability to prescribe the proper follow-up treatments. His philosophy was to continue treatments as long as there was signs of improvement. I feel that this philosophy is why I am walking today. Robin and I spent the next few hours preparing to leave and saying good-bye to our new found friends.

My Dad arrived at the hospital around 8:00 p.m. He loaded our luggage and we headed to Mobile, Alabama. We talked along the way, stopping at a restaurant for a late dinner and coffee. Somehow, I felt closer to him than ever before. We arrived at home about 11:30 p.m. Robin, my Dad and I talked a little longer. Soon he left and the house was quiet. I finally began to unwind about 3:00 a.m. The next few weeks had its ups and downs. I continued to improve.

Treatments were reduced to once a day and I began physical therapy. Robin and I rode our bikes often. We would ride to the local high school and walk up and down the bleachers.

I attempted to play ball but that turned out to be an embarrassment. I could not yet run.

My dive buddies were eager to see me back in the water. The doctors told me that I should never dive again, using compressed air. My only alternative was to free dive, or breath hold diving.

The spearfishing tournament came and went without a hitch. I was able to give a convincing safety talk prior to the tournament on safe diving and a first hand account on decompression sickness. I am proposing a free diving category for next year’s event.

My biggest achievement to date came on August 21, 1995. My best friend and dive buddy, Jack deVilliers and I headed to Gulf Shores, Alabama for a free diving adventure. We entered the water and swam out to the jetties. We commenced to do what we do best, spearfish. Together we brought home an ice chest full of flounder and red fish.

I knew then that I had not lost the desire to dive. I just had to relearn how. On one breath of air and for a moment I was again on bottom, able to see all the amazing life that lives there. Grouper, Speckled Trout, Spanish Mackerel, Sheepshead, Look Downs, tropicals, big Southern Rays and a Spotted Butterfly Ray just to name a few.

While walking at times is difficult, I can still swim like a fish. I’m still trying to run sprints, and plan on playing softball in the Fall. I may not be able to play left field but first base or pitcher shouldn’t be that bad for now. I have also returned to work in a limited capacity, delivering Express Mail for the U.S. Postal Service.

Through this experience I have learned to live every day to the fullest. Never take life for granted and always remember that God is alive in each and every one of us. All you have to do is believe in Him and when you call on Him he will always be there. I would like to thank all the doctors, technicians and nurses for the outstanding treatment I received while at Jo Ellen Smith Medical Center in New Orleans. I owe it all to you. May God Bless and keep you all!


On June 9, 1996 exactly one year from the day of my accident, another milestone was made. I competed in the Dauphin Island Spearfishing Tournament, held on June 7th, 8th, and 9th. This event has a freediving category so I thought "what the heck" I’ll give it a try. I have been successful on several freediving trips since August and felt confident in my ability to participate.

After a busy weekend I came home with 1st place freediving awards in the amberjack, snapper, sheepshead and flounder categories. One month later I competed in the Alabama Open Spearfish