‘It Was Scary, and I Was in Lots of Pain’

September 01, 2021

By Tim Barker, Editorial Contributor

The first sign that Dan Hosmer’s hobby could be a threat to his life appeared as a tingling skin rash after one of his scuba dives. Having taken up diving nearly two decades earlier, he was well aware of the threat presented by decompression sickness, more commonly known as the bends.

The condition is caused by rapid changes in pressure that force nitrogen gas bubbles into the bloodstream. It can happen to those who fly but is most common among divers – particularly those who ascend too quickly from a deep dive. Among the complications are joint pain, numbness, paralysis, stroke and even death.

For Hosmer, the tingly rash that eventually would send him to cardiac specialists at Bayfront Health St. Petersburg was a symptom of skin bends, which often disappears within hours. He worried over the rash but figured he’d be safe if he took more care with decompression.

That worked for a while. Until the day he rose from a dive, unable to move his legs. The gas bubbles had emerged around Hosmer’s spine, crippling him for half an hour. The terrifying incident happened 20 miles from shore, prompting a call to the U.S. Coast Guard.

“It completely put me down,” Hosmer says. “It was scary, and I was in lots of pain. I was completely immobilized.”

An Unexpected Twist

He was airlifted to a facility with a decompression chamber and advised not to dive again. But Hosmer found it impossible to turn his back on his passion. Soon after, he resumed diving and had another health scare, blowing out his eardrums and developing vertigo. He was told he ascended too quickly from his dive and may have suffered a stroke. His chances of recovering were slim.

Hosmer wanted a second opinion, so he turned to Bayfront Health St. Petersburg, where he connected with a doctor who shares his passion for diving.  

Dr. Trina Espinola is an ear, nose and throat specialist who happens to a member of the Divers Alert Network, which works to improve diving safety. When Hosmer learned of their mutual interest, he hoped that Dr. Espinola, now the hospital’s chief medical officer, would be able to solve his problems. To his surprise, the evaluation uncovered a potential heart problem.

Root of the Problem

The diagnosis shifted him to the care of heart specialists at Bayfront Health St. Petersburg, where cardiovascular tests, including an EKG, revealed an abnormal opening in his heart’s pumping chambers. The ventricular septal defect is essentially a hole in the heart that typically closes shortly after birth. The defect occurs in roughly 25 percent of the population, though most people never know they have it.

In Hosmer’s case, this small hole was the root of his diving problems and needed to be closed through a procedure known as patent foramen ovale closure. Board-certified cardiologists Dr. Ravi Korabathina and Dr. Dan Masvidal performed the surgery.

Hosmer was apprehensive about the procedure, but trust in his physicians gave him confidence.

“I’ve been through so much. I was kind of scared of the procedure for my kids’ sake and everything else,” he says. “But I have to say, after I got done with Dr. Korabathina, he put my mind at ease. He nailed it.”

Following the August 2020 surgery, Hosmer has made a full recovery and is returning to the water. He attributes his good fortune to the dedication shown by the team at Bayfront Health St. Petersburg.

“Everybody across the board – they went above and beyond to figure out what was going on and make me feel comfortable,” Hosmer says.

The experience also has given him a new outlook on diving and the importance of taking things slowly to ensure his safety. With two teenage children to care for, he’s striving to be a strong father and role model both in and out of the water.

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