Rare treatment at Minneapolis hospital saves diver's life


A Michigan diver underwent a rare treatment at Hennepin County Medical Center that saved his life.

Terry Begnoche, 64, and his crew were shooting video of a shipwreck off Grand Marais, Michigan, Sept. 18, as part of his work with the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. When Begnoche went to make the 45-minute trip to the surface, it only took two minutes – the experienced diver, who was hauling video equipment, said there was no way to stop his momentum, the Daily Mail says.

When he was pulled to the boat, he started feeling prickly sensations in his body and lost control of his arms and legs, the Star Tribune says. He had decompression sickness (DCS), also known as the bends, which can occur when pressure rapidly decreases around the body. This can cause nitrogen bubbles to form in body tissue and the bloodstream – in severe cases it can block blood flow and disrupt blood vessels and nerves, according to Divers Alert Network.

Doctors compared Begnoche to a "human soda bottle" that had been shaken up with the top still on, the Daily Mail says. Begnoche's DCS was so bad, he was transported from Michigan to HCMC in Minneapolis on a low-altitude flight, which flew below 800 feet.

HCMC doctors tried a rare treatment they found in the U.S. Navy Diving Manual, the Star Tribune reports.

The newspaper says Begnoche spent a "record 53 hours" in the hospital's hyperbaric chamber, which simulated a depth of about 165 feet – typically the chamber simulates depth pressure of 45 to 60 feet.

While in the chamber, a patient breaths 100 percent oxygen at increased pressure to give their body a chance to slowly clear out the nitrogen bubbles, HCMC says. This is similar to the way Begnoche's body would have cleared out the nitrogen bubbles had he ascended to the surface slowly enough.

Dr. Chris Logue, medical director of HCMC's center for hyperbaric medicine, told the Star Tribune it's "really rare to have to do that protocol," one reason is because people usually die before they get treatment.

It's not known if Begnoche will ever fully recover. He's regained control of his arms, but he still can't move his legs, the Star Tribune says, and doctors hope daily hyperbaric chamber treatments and physical therapy will help.


Hyperbaric chambers are also used to treat carbon monoxide poisoning, severe injuries, severe anemia, among others, HCMC says.

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