Navy: Email denying treatment for the bends was sent 'in error'

DEMONSTRATION: The Naval Base Guam dive locker demonstrates an emergency scenario consisting of a diver going into cardiac arrest in a hyperbaric environment simulated at a depth of 60 feet of seawater, on Feb. 25, 2015. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy

The U.S. Navy in Guam said it will not deny emergency care to civilian divers who need treatment in a hyperbaric oxygen therapy chamber.

This chamber can mean life or death for a diver stricken with the bends, a condition caused by bubbles forming in the blood and other tissues when a diver surfaces too quickly.

And on Guam, only the Navy has a decompression chamber that can provide the level of care to save a diver in such distress, as the civilian diving community has known. Local hospitals do not have that capability, The Guam Daily Post has verified.

"U.S. Naval Base Guam is home to the only hyperbaric chamber within the Micronesia Islands that accepts and treats military and civilian patients with dive-related illnesses," the Navy said in a 2015 statement.

But on Tuesday morning, an email from within the Navy to the local diving community stated: "We just received a change to our regional tasking from the admiral and I am making an effort to let the local dive companies know that for at least the foreseeable future, Naval Base Guam/COMNAVMAR chamber will NOT be available for civilian bends treatments."

The Navy email to the civilian dive shops further stated: "We do not know if this will be a permanent change but I know your divemasters are trained that we are the go-to and I would hate to see a casualty go untreated longer due to any confusion."

The Navy Public Affairs Office on Guam initially stated no such decision denying civilian divers emergency treatment had been made. In a subsequent statement, however, the Navy PAO said: "The email was sent in error and was incorrect. Naval Base Guam continues to provide hyperbaric assistance for military and civilian divers in the event of an emergency."


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