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Colin’s last dive – proof of the healing power of Scuba

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Deptherapy Ambassador, PADI AmbassaDiver and trainee Divemaster Gary Green tells his personal and poetic story of the day he accompanied Colin Clements on his last dive.

The cold metal of the bolt on my shed stung my bare skin as I pulled it from the lock. My knuckles turned white as I pulled the stubborn bolt free. Inside my shed my diving gear was stowed away, protected from the elements. I sorted through the various tools that I would not need: the diving knife, the boots for my dry suit and the Halo dive torch presented to me by John Womack, all placed back in their housing.

My Apeks regulators, fins and BCD were placed inside my travel pack. The temperature must have been below 0 degrees as I filled my car boot in the early morning frost. The remnants of the previous weeks snow had mostly been washed away by the rain; pieces of ice were still present on my driveway. It occurred to me how quickly things could change… A week ago my car was completely snowed in. I started the car to free the wind shield from the condensation smothering the glass and I looked down at my legs. I may have made a mistake wearing the shorts I was going to dive in! The hairs on the bare skin stood up as if saluting the cold air as the engine ticked over, forcing cold air through the vents. I held my body waiting for the cold air to turn warm.

Cars rushed around me; a light rain bashed against the window, wipers swiped left and right giving a second of clear sight until raindrop reinforcements replaced them. Then swipe, swipe again and the droplets were smashed away and forced off the car. The cars in front whip up dirty water from the road, trailing their movement and creating a slipstream of mist behind them.

I was in no rush, I wasn’t going to be involved in a car accident. What would be the point? The man I was on my way to meet knows just how quickly things can change. I was not going to waste whatever life I have been granted by rushing on a rain-filled road. The man, Colin Clements, has brain cancer. Not long ago, he was healthy and he spent around 600 hours underwater diving, clearing the Thailand Sea from plastics and fishing wire. Then, just as quickly as the snow had disappeared, so too did his health.

Just this information and realisation forced me to see my own mortality, as my car hit a patch of water, snatching the traction from my wheels. I realised it is not me that is in control. Nothing is a given, life is fragile. So as I watched cars speed past me, I couldn’t help question their decision. It would only take a second for everything to change. I slowed down and decided that anything that was in my control, I would take. I was not going to crash on the motorway for being ignorant; Colin’s story had taught me that my mission that day was more important.

Colin Clements’ brain cancer means that he will soon not be a part of this world. In the face of his own mortality, he sought not a selfish idea or one of self-loathing. Instead, he saw a selfless opportunity, to pass on his gift to those less fortunate.

Deptherapy is a charity that seeks to rehabilitate mentally and physically injured veterans through scuba diving. Colin decided that, in the face of his death, in face of the cursed word that is cancer, not to cower in self-pity but instead to donate his scuba diving gear to the charity. He wanted to do this so that in his death, his scuba diving spirit would live on inside a soldier that needed therapy. Colin had one, final wish – that he could experience the magic of scuba diving one more time. He wanted to do this with a wounded soldier, kindred spirits that both know what it’s like to live with death lingering over them. Someone that knew that death could not follow them beneath the surface.

I drove through the rain, feeling every slippery patch of the road, the whole time trying to imagine what Colin must be thinking. I could not quite comprehend how he had come to the conclusion of charity in the face of death. I have faced death; I have diced with death for my brothers in arms, as we stood side by side in battle. I understand this brotherhood, that some things are more important than death. The only conclusion I could come to is that Colin must too share this brotherhood. Although Colin and I had never met, I knew his spirit; I knew that he must be a man of great heart.

I pulled up at Eagle House swimming pool in Sandhurst. A car was waiting at the entrance and we were greeted by Colin’s carer, Daphne, who told us that he had only just been told that he was going to be diving with us. Up until that point, Colin thought that he was just coming to meet us. Apparently he was so excited that he needed time to calm down.

Inside the pool house, I put Colin’s kit together. I am a trainee Divemaster and as such, I had the honour and responsibility of leading the dive and taking care of Colin inside the water. Chris Ganley was with me, a fellow Rifleman and Deptherapy Programme Member. Chris served two tours in Afghanistan but when he got home he was involved in a horrific motorcycle accident. He lost his left arm and was basically rebuilt from the waist up.

Together we stood in meeting; a veteran with one arm, a veteran blind in one eye with PTSD, and a man who was about to die from brain cancer. Three men from different parts of the country uniting for scuba. Colin spoke beautifully about scuba diving; his words were often forgotten and he struggled to remember certain things but his enthusiasm for the water was unmistakable.

I helped him into the water, I checked his kit and I weighted him for a buoyancy check. I spat in my mask, I looked him in the eyes and they twinkled back at me, his eagerness to feel the water close his head was screaming at me through his smile. As we went under the surface I kept close to Colin. I was worried that because of his condition he might forget to breathe or might panic.

“The complete opposite happened; he was so at home. I believe that if he could live underwater then he would live forever.”

We posed for underwater photos, some with the Deptherapy banner, and Colin was completely coherent and helped hold the banner in place whilst Stuart Green worked his magic with the camera. After about fifteen minutes Colin became tired and we headed to the shallow end and popped out of the water. The smile on Colin’s face was unbelievable, like a new life had sparked inside him, if only that was the case…

I took his kit and I helped him out the water. The dive was cut short but the fifteen minutes was enough and Colin’s wish of one, last dive was completed. Gratitude was showered upon us by his family and by him; I didn’t understand why because it was I who was grateful for his gesture. Chris Ganley and myself had just done what in our eyes was the right thing to do; it was nothing special, just the recognition of someone that shared that brotherhood spirit, someone who knew that some things are more important than death.

The dive with Colin not only reminded me of how important life was, that things can change as quickly as the weather, but also a life affirmation. I am here now. I am alive. If a man can be so generous in death, then surely a man who is still alive can do so much more?

Colin has touched many people. He has taught me that life is precious and that there are good people in this world. His kit will go on a soldier who is in a dark place; hopefully, that person will come out of the water not only wearing Colin’s dive gear, but also wearing his smile…

Colin Clements.

Gary Green is an author, team leader and PADI AmbassaDIVER. After being medically discharged from the British Army following an IED attack which left him blind in one eye and with PTSD, Gary was introduced to scuba diving through the rehabilitation charity Deptherapy. Gary is living proof of the healing power of scuba.

Dive Training Blogs

Deptherapy returns to its Roots – Part 4

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Join Richard Cullen from Deptherapy for part 4 of his Blog about the charity’s recent expedition to Roots Red Sea, El Quseir, Egypt.

We are all back to the house reef today; the weather is lovely, the sea calm, the tide will soon be slack, so a great day’s diving in store.

A few yards away from the beach dive centre, on the Roots’ beach is their day time restaurant. It is where we take lunch when diving, and there is a continual supply of tea, coffee and soft drinks, and some marvellous lunches.  There are also male and female toilets and a fully accessible toilet for those using wheelchairs.

A few thoughts around working with amputees and those who have paraplegia. Firstly amputees – the part of the limb remaining is known as the ‘stump’, and we have worked with a substantial number of bilateral leg amputees (both legs), single leg amputees and single arm amputees.  The level of amputation can be above or below the knee or elbow, or through the knee. In one case the amputation was transpelvic and in another through the shoulder.  Some like Chris Middleton have one leg amputated above the knee and one below the knee.  This is rare, but each type of amputation offers a different challenge.

Many people think the amputation is clean and the skin neatly tidied up after surgery. Although that occurs in a few cases, in most the stump is rather rugged.  Elasticity of the skin around the stump is often exceptionally poor and can easily be damaged.  Some of our beneficiaries, as they were injured as young men, suffered from heterotopic ossification – this is where the bone tries to grow after amputation and often penetrates the skin, resulting in further surgery being required to cut back the bone and of course the stump needs to be restitched.  Very often stumps are sealed with skin from elsewhere on the body.

Swars kitting up

Few divers have never experienced a graze or cut underwater but such an experience for those with amputations can have serious consequences.  Stumps are more likely to get cut or grazed as the skin is so tight. We all know that there are lots of infections in seawater and if infected the cut or graze can cause very serious problems for the amputee.  Tailored wetsuits are one preventative measure, as are daily stump checks, making sure there is no damage and if there is, applying medication and or protecting the stump.

Those with paraplegia provide an additional challenge, not being able to feel their lower limbs they can easily damage them, so cuts, abrasions, and even sunburn can go unnoticed.  Donning a full-length wetsuit can be a challenge as toes can easily be broken and hairs pulled out of legs.  On the Deptherapy Education Professionals’ Course we show how to fit a wetsuit properly.

In recent discussions between our dive medicine advisor Mark Downs and our VP Richard Castle, who is a consultant psychologist, we have been looking at areas for further medical research in terms of diving for those with disabilities.  One area of suggested study is thermoregulation. The theory is that those with amputations and those with paraplegia suffer more with the cold as their body is unable to regulate heat. Certainly, in Corey’s case, he feels the cold more quickly than those diving with him. Chris Middleton can feel the cold more quickly than others with amputations but that may well be that Chris is muscle and bone where, to put it nicely, others have a more substantial covering.

Some AMEDs and Dive Referees will not sign off amputees as being fit to dive. That is their professional opinion and although we can show that even triple amputees are more than capable divers, capable of progressing to Rescue Diver standard even, they still refuse to sign them off. Last year Oli and Mark invited us to speak at the UK Annual Hyperbaric Medicine Conference in London where Josh Boggi, the world’s first triple amputee Rescue Diver and a Deptherapy beneficiary spoke about how amputees can become safe and successful divers.

Corey, Swars and Michael

For Corey, he wears full leg coverings and diving boots in the water; as he cannot use his legs there is no purpose in wearing fins.

Another point around amputations is that most of the general population make an assumption that a leg amputation is the result of a traumatic incident.  That is incorrect; by far the majority of leg amputations in the UK are the result of diabetes. Those whose legs are amputated as a result as diabetes are more likely to have poor healing of the stumps.  This also presents an issue of comorbidity that may well result in an AMED or Dive Referee declining to sign them off as ‘fit to dive’.  If signed off you would need to be very aware of the health of a stump; I certainly would not take someone with an open wound diving and the fact that they will be on medication for the diabetes.  You also have to be aware that they may well be on other medication to manage pain etc.

You need to be very clear with those who have paraplegia and other conditions that they must let you know if they start to feel cold.

Managing air – diving just using your arms for propulsion can, for many, be very tiring and a considerable amount of effort is required.  This, plus other factors, may result in enhanced air consumption by the diver.  This may increase if a current is encountered, even one which most divers who have use of their legs and dive with fins would not cause the least concern.

Within Deptherapy we very much work on the ‘rule of thirds’ – a third of your air to get you down and to see what you want to see, a third to get you back to the surface and a third in reserve.  This in most circumstances will ensure no ‘low on air’ or ‘out of air’ situations.

Say if we have 210 bar in a cylinder that means 70 bar out, so turn on 140 bar, 70 bar to return and to the surface so we should have 70 bar reserve at the surface.

We also work our students through SAC rates and looking at the air consumption of others in their team.

Checking the team’s air frequently during a dive is stressed to all our Pro team.

Keiron became very engaged with this concept as the result of the online RAID study for his Master Rescue Diver.

On expeditions we normally dive in small teams, a DM/TDM with three programme members.  They work as a team and understand each other’s air consumption. Of course, they also dive as buddy pairs.

Today offered perfect conditions for diving, and Keiron, Moudi, and this time TDM Oatsie were kitted up and in the water within minutes.

Pause for thought… those with paraplegia will have different toileting arrangements to those who do not have the condition. This also applies to some who have suffered traumatic limb loss.  They may use catheters for urination, some may have Stoma bags etc.  This all has to be planned into your dive schedule to ensure the safety and comfort of your student.  For young people talking about these very personal arrangements may be very difficult.  Those with Stoma bags may be embarrassed by people seeing them.  This is another part of seeing beyond the injury or condition – it is the person inside that you are dealing with.

Corey on the Roots House Reef

So, Corey, Michael and myself were joined by Swars.  Swars, although he joined the DM programme at the same time as the other guys, because of work commitments was unable to join us in September 2019 at Roots where we ran a DM introductory programme alongside the crossover of our Pro Team to RAID.  Swars has become a really good mate; he is a great diver, with an engaging personality.

Michael and Oatsie were a known quantity to me as they had been on the September 2019 programme and both have travelled to my home dive centre Divecrew in Crowthorne, Berkshire, to work on courses, pre-COVID.  During COVID Michael and I, plus a few of the guys from Divecrew, have dived at Wraysbury together.

Just as Roots is our base in Egypt, Divecrew is our base in the UK, and through this relationship, Martin (who owns Divecrew with his wife Sue) is one of our trustees. Together they have established a centre where pretty much 100% of the Pros are Deptherapy Education trained.

I asked Swars straight away to brief a dive for Corey. I gave him the briefing slate, a few tips and then ten minutes later he came back with a perfect briefing… and I mean perfect.  So, a great briefing under his belt; now to watch him work with Corey in open water. He looked the Pro, he knew what he should be doing, he understood his role. We assigned Michael as Corey’s buddy and said he would lead the dive. I was there to assess the TDMs and supervise very closely Corey’s skill demonstrations.

Again, it comes as no surprise that many beneficiaries in Deptherapy can move straight into dive management, as several were NCOs, as was Swars, and they are used to briefing individuals and teams.

We had decided that we would mix up the dives required to complete Corey’s OW 20 RAID dives with some general diving as trim and swimming arm action are all important. We also needed to concentrate on spatial awareness.

We agreed a signal for horizontal trim and Swars reinforced the swim stroke that Corey needed to do to get propulsion.  Every time Corey moved out of horizontal trim Swars was there reminding him about trim and reminding him of his swim stroke.

The Roots’ House Reef is amazing – at a metre you encounter a shoal of black Damselfish, at 3 metres a shoal of Unicornfish, there are Butterflyfish and all manner of other fishes in great profusion.  The coral is in great condition. It really is a place of beauty and tranquillity.

Oatsie and Swars relaxing by the Roots pool after a long day

Although we had problems getting Corey underwater again, once we got him in skill demonstration mode his anxieties disappeared.  We then took him diving. Steve Rattle, the owner of Roots joined us and was taking photos that provide a great record of the week’s diving.  Steve commented on the quality of Swars and Michael’s supervision and control underwater of Corey and gave them feedback on how impressed he was.

Meanwhile on the RAID Master Rescue Course, Oatsie who was in the same Regiment, same Platoon and Section as Keiron in Afghanistan was more than willing to be a very uncooperative victim for his brother-in-arms.  I think Keiron gave Oatsie some feedback about this!

For me this was a hard week, combining running the RAID OW 20 for Corey but also the assessment of our three TDMs.  A week underwater but no opportunity to dive for myself.  People often think Deptherapy Expeditions are holidays for the Dive Team; they are not, it is hard work and I mean hard work.

Tomorrow is Day 4 in the water Day 5 of our trip. We are on the House Reef again, and things are starting to come together. Join us back here on Monday 26th October…


Find out more about the work of Deptherapy and Deptherapy Education at www.deptherapy.co.uk

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Dive Training Blogs

Scuba Diving Instructor Ranks Scuba Specialty Classes… the good, the bad and the rubbish!! (Watch Video)

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Scuba Diving Specialty Certifications! Which ones are worth your money? And which ones are just rubbish?!

This professional Scuba Instructor has strong opinions about Scuba Specialty Courses, and he’s sharing them with you!

Wreck Diver, Deep Diver, Nitrox, Buoyancy, Boat, Ice, Dry Suit, UW Photography… the list goes on and on. With so many choices for Specialty certs to get you to Master Scuba Diver level, how do you know which dive courses are of value, and which are a waste of time?

We ask 3 simple questions of each Scuba Course and rank each course’s value for you. So before you sign up for your next PADI e-learning course, WATCH THIS VIDEO!


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