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April 2019    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Vol. 34, No. 4   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Lessons from My Wife’s Snorkeling Death

and why I suspect her mask as the culprit

from the April, 2019 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

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My wife died in September 2016 while snorkeling Pohoiki Bay on the Big Island. A devastating shock. She planned a week's stay. Lasted less than 24 hours.

I've since learned some things about her death and snorkeling. Some painful. Some I hope informative and lifesaving. If only I knew then ...

She was an experienced snorkeler in Hawaiian waters and a strong swimmer. She was found floating face up with her water-filled full-face mask pulled up, exposing her mouth and nose. She'd been in the water less than an hour. No struggle was witnessed. The fact that the mask was pulled partly off suggests something went wrong, suddenly, and she tried to get the thing off. Too late.

The coroner's report is not much help. Part of the autopsy findings are consistent with drowning. But it also suggests a contributing history of ischemic heart disease (clogged arteries). Really? She had no such history. The coroner's own examination does not support that conclusion. Her own doctor thought that conclusion bunk.

Are epidemiologists and ocean safety officials jumping to the wrong causation conclusions about ocean fatalities in Hawaii, relying too heavily on possibly misleading coroners' reports? No one inquired about my wife. The coroner knew nothing of the circumstances, the mask, her experience, fitness or medical history. Might there have been other contributing factors? What is the purpose of a coroner's report if not to uncover facts that might help prevent future deaths?...


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