Questions about a scuba diver’s general health were raised during a Coroner’s Inquest last week.
After hearing the answers and circumstances of a diving incident, the jury returned a verdict of death by natural causes.
Don Eric Haney, 53, died after a dive on 17 June 2005. He and his family were on a repeat visit from Florida.
Queen’s Coroner Nova Hall began the evidence by reading a statement from the deceased’s son.
The son said Mr. Haney had a check-up ‘the other day’ and his blood work was fine. He was just told he needed to lose a little weight. The only sickness he had was diabetes.
He said the family arrived the day before the dive. His father had complained of a headache and felt he was catching a cold before they left the US.
On the day of the dive, his father said he had a headache and was taking a nap after lunch. He came back for a 2pm boat dive; he did not mention any headache and looked fine.
The son said he, his father and his sister were buddies for the dive. About 15 minutes into the dive, his father signalled he was going up. The son started to ascend also, but his father pointed to him that he should stay down, and then signalled okay.
When the son came up with his sister, the boat was gone. A man on a Wave Runner told them there had been an accident. Another Wave Runner took him to shore, where he found people working on his father.
Paul Thompson, dive instructor with Red Sail Sports, gave evidence in person. He said he had been with Red Sail eight years and was familiar with the family.
Mr. Haney, his son and daughter were all certified and competent divers, Mr. Thompson said. Although they had not been to Cayman for a year or so, they had previously come more than once per year. On the day of the dive, he heard no complaints from Mr. Haney.
On the boat trip, he was with two divers doing an introductory dive experience course. The eight experienced divers were given a briefing and dive profile with times and directions.
When he surfaced with his two divers, the boat was gone. A line was stretched between two Wave Runners for the surfacing divers to hang onto.
The coroner then read a statement from Richard David Smart, who was the captain of the dive boat on the day of the incident. He said the dive was at Lone Star Ledges, a shallow dive site on the west side of the island.
Mr. Smart said he remained on board during the dive. He heard a coughing in front of the boat and went to check. He saw a male diver and asked what was wrong. The man said he could not catch his breath.
Mr. Smart said he told the man to inflate his buoyancy vest. Then he used a hook stick to pull the man to the back of the boat. The man got himself onto the ladder and Mr. Smart took off the man’s gear.
The man sat on the step of the dive platform, then got up on one of the benches. He kept saying he found it hard to breathe, but he kept talking. Mr. smart asked if had come up too quickly or had numbness or tingling. The diver said no to each questions.
He started to go pale and was still coughing, so Mr. Smart went to get the oxygen kit kept on board. When he turned around, he saw the man collapsed on the bench. He went and shook him, but got no response.
Mr. Smart said he got on the radio and called in the emergency. He said he was coming in immediately and couldn’t wait for the other divers. When he got to shore, he and another man performed CPR until paramedics arrived and took over.
A statement from marine parks supervisor Keith Neale indicated that the dive equipment was in order. Dr. David Schudel’s statement said Mr. Haney’s personal dive computer showed a dive time of 14 minutes, to a depth of 43 feet and a controlled ascent.
Government pathologist Dr. John Heidingsfelder summarised the findings of Dr. Bruce Hyma, who conducted the autopsy.
Dr. John said the internal examination revealed an enlarged heart – one and a half to two times normal size. In examining the arteries which supply blood to the heart, Dr. Hyma noted a near complete blockage of the left anterior coronary artery. The blockage was due to calcified plaque or hardening of the arteries.
The kidney examination also revealed a hardening of arteries there.
The pathologist’s conclusion was that Mr. Haney death was due to coronary atherosclerosis, with diabetes a contributing cause.
Dr. John said his clinical interpretation, given the reported symptoms, was that Mr. Haney had an acute heart attack.
The coroner said this was a frequent puzzle. Mr. Haney recently had a medical examination that showed him all right. Yet the autopsy showed heart and kidney problems. She asked if this was something that could occur in a brief period.
Dr. John said the enlargement of the heart and the narrowing of the artery were things that were long standing.
There was no evidence of any previous heart attack, but Mr. Haney’s heart was not well. The stress or exertion of the dive may have or likely exceeded his heart’s ability to pump, Dr. John said.
The symptom of shortness of breath was consistent with acute congestive heart failure, which can be caused by an acute heart attack, he said.
After juror’s returned their unanimous verdict, the coroner noted that she had presided over a number of inquests involving dive incidents.
Typical situations concerned persons of a certain age who were slightly overweight or suffering from some previously unobserved illness. It was not known if they led sedentary lives, but it seemed as if the exertion of the dive brought on the catastrophe.
In this case, Mr. Haney had a recent medical exam, so even if divers were required to produce a medical, it would apparently serve no useful purpose, the coroner said.