For close to two months now, Kim Martin has has been in the intensive care unit at the Galway University Hospital in Ireland.
The veteran scuba diver, who lives in Baysville, Ont, is paralyzed from the chest down and needs the help of machines to breathe after a diving accident. And because he doesn’t have divers insurance, his treatment could cost him more than $300,000.
His fiancee, Kirstin Chadwick has been at his bedside every day, helping him come to terms with his new reality.
“It’s is a long-term, life altering spinal cord injury,” Chadwick said.
An injury he suffered while on a deep sea diving expedition with some friends on Aug. 8. Doctors say he surfaced too quickly and suffered decompression sickness, or what divers refer to as “the bends.”
Martin and his friends planned to dive down to the ruins of the Lusitania, a British ocean liner that was sunk by a German submarine during the First World War in 1915 off Kinsale, Ireland.
It’s a difficult dive, well over a 100 metres down, but Chadwick says Martin had done similar dives many times before.
“He’s been diving for over 30 years,” she said.
But on the day of this dive something went wrong, and Chadwick says she’s still not entirely sure what happened.
“From my conversations with the other divers, and from the crew on the boat that day,” Chadwick said, “we can ascertain that Kim was not weighted appropriately for the dive.”
Scuba divers use weight belts or other weighting systems to counteract buoyancy in the water. It’s particularly important when ascending back to the surface, according to Mark Paszyn, the owner and lead diving instructor at Aquarius Scuba Diving Centre in Toronto.
“You come out slowly, and you spend so much time on the different steps,” Paszyn said.
The weights help the diver stop and hover in the water for several minutes at a time, because the body absorbs nitrogen gas during dives, and the slow ascent to the surface gives it time to escape.
“When you do technical diving, you can not miss decompression stops,” Paszyn said, “You have to do it.”
If a diver resurfaces too quickly the nitrogen gas can expand and lead to decompression sickness.
Martin showed severe signs of the bends shortly after the dive, and was immediately airlifted to hospital. He spent six days in a decompression chamber, in hopes of reversing some of the symptoms, but it had little effect.
“Kim has experienced what’s called a spinal stroke, so that’s a lack of blood oxygen,” according to Chadwick.
Also, Martin had not purchased insurance before traveling to Ireland. Divers are commonly covered by the Divers Insurance Network but Chadwick says Martin forgot to renew his membership before the trip.
“It was something that I kind of nagged him about, and we had a couple of little tiffs about before the dive,” she said.
Chadwick is expecting Martin’s hospital bills to exceed $360,000, most of which would have been covered by insurance had Martin renewed his membership. But Chadwick says now is not the time to worry about that.
“All of the doctors and the nurses just reassure me, ‘That’s not your focus right now,'” she said. ‘That’s a bill that will come later; you really need to just be here with Kim.'”
Insurance would have also helped with the cost of repatriating Martin. To get back home, he a needs private plane specifically designed for this type of trip.
“It’s a fully equipped ICU, with a ventilator on board and anything Kim might need in case of emergency,” Chadwick said.
“There would be a doctor, and just in case something happened, there would be an ICU nurse.”
It’s also very costly. Chadwick says she’s had a few quotes at more than $90,000 each.
Some of Martin’s friends have started a GoFundMe campaign to help cover some of the costs. They’re hoping to get him home as soon as possible. He’s already missed two very significant dates.
On Sept. 23, Martin celebrated his 56th birthday in his hospital room, and last month he and Chadwick were supposed to get married.
They considered going ahead with their wedding plans at the hospital, but Chadwick says they decided to wait until they get back.
“I just started to look forward to the new wedding,” she said. “To be able to say for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, and how much those vows will really mean to Kim and I.