Enjoying all that high school has to offer, Hamish of Cambridge jumped at the chance of a diving trip organised by his school. A series of dives was organised over the summer of 2021/2022 off the stunning Coromandel coast.
Hamish was to complete his last two dives of the trip in January of this year. It was these last dives and a series of events during these dives, that very nearly changed the course of Hamish’s life forever if he hadn’t been able to access the crucial life-saving hospital transfer by the Waikato Westpac Rescue Helicopter.
What he didn’t know at the time, was how critical the availability and skill of his helicopter rescue crew would be in his outcome that January day.
Diving in pairs with his good friend, they were at a depth of 15 metres, when Hamish noticed air leaking from his buddy’s regulator. Losing air quickly his buddy became agitated and started making his way up to the surface.
Hamish, trying to calm his buddy, had to make the tough decision to ascend more slowly by himself and follow dive protocol by making the ‘decompression safety stop’ allowing his body to release the nitrogen built up that happens in the underwater environment; or stay with his buddy who was ascending quickly.
He decided to stay with his friend and miss the safety stop at the 3-metre depth. Hamish remembers feeling ok for the rest of that afternoon and it wasn't until he was walking home that evening, that Hamish’s mum Jayney, who walked down the street to meet him, saw him staggering down the street.
Jayney said Hamish was exhausted and put himself to bed. Feeling uneasy about his condition she checked on him through the night. Jayney happened to have a pulse oximeter – his heart rate while sleeping was a fast 130bpm...definitely not a resting heart rate. She also noticed a “purple rash on his lower back” which she now knows as a ‘skin bend’ where nitrogen is trapped under the skin.
By this time Jayney had a “funny feeling” things were definitely not as they should be, and Hamish was in fact suffering from a “decompression injury.”
A call to the Diver Helpline who was instrumental in Hamish’s care from that point on. Hamish soon went from Waikato Hospital’s ICU to being air-lifted by rescue helicopter to North Shore Hospital and on to Devonport’s Naval Base and their decompression chamber.
This was no ordinary airlift by the rescue helicopter crew, and the skills of the crew meant that Hamish was kept at a low altitude so as to not worsen his condition.
“A helicopter pilot needs to have a real blend of skills; flying day or night, in any type of weather conditions, flying with night vision goggles, operating under high pressure situations,” says Pilot Nat
And it was these skills that were called on to make sure Hamish arrived quickly and with the best chance of survival.
“The rescue helicopter cut hours off Hamish’s transit which would have most likely resulted in a very different outcome,” says Jayney speaking of the experience.
“Our family are so grateful for the swift and professional care, plus the expert assistance Hamish received from the rescue helicopter service, paramedics, doctors, nurses and specialist services. Without this, we dread to think what may have happened, or the permanent implications for his future would have been.” says a relieved Jayney.
Hamish had a 7-hour initial emergency decompression session inside the chamber at an underwater depth equivalent of 18 metres, allowing his body to eliminate nitrogen. This vital treatment saved him from paralysis (or worse).
Hamish is now back to school and doing all the things high school kids do, although he does tire quickly and is still dealing with a few side effects from the experience. The family are so thankful to have had access to the time-critical flight of the rescue helicopter that day.