Canadian diver paralysed following incident at Lusitania
Kim Martin’s fiancee, who he was to marry in August, appeals for help to get him home
Kirstin Chadwick and Kim Martin, who were due to marry in August
A Canadian scuba diver who travelled to Ireland to dive off the Lusitania shipwreck in Cork has been left almost completely paralysed after getting into difficulty while surfacing from the site.
James (Kim) Martin, who was part of a group of visiting scuba divers from north America, had booked to spend 10 days in Ireland last August before returning to Canada, where his marriage to Kirstin Chadwick was set to take place a week later.
Ms Chadwick has spent the past seven weeks by her fiancée’s bedside in University Hospital Galway and is now appealing for support to bring her partner back to Canada.
Mr Martin’s dive at the Lusitania was the last in a list of famous shipwrecks he had visited around the world. After more than three decades of diving, including receiving a medal of bravery by the Canadian government in 1996 for saving a fellow diver, Mr Martin was eager to complete his bucket list, Ms Chadwick told The Irish Times.
While it was not the deepest wreck he had explored, the Lusitania lies in murky, unpredictable Irish waters. “There was quite a bit of trepidation about this dive because it was so significant,” Ms Chadwick said. “I think he was excited for it to be done. He was looking forward to us being married and starting our lives together.”
Ms Chadwick spoke to Mr Martin by phone the night before the dive and set her alarm to wake the following morning when the dive was due to be over. She woke to find no messages on her phone and sent two texts checking in on her partner. After three hours of waiting she opened Google and searched the words “Lusitania”, “diver” and “Ireland”. The first link to appear was an article published by The Irish Times 15 minutes earlier reporting that a man had been airlifted from the Lusitania during the decompression portion of the dive.
Ms Chadwick called the Canadian embassy which confirmed the man was Canadian but did not yet know his name. She then contacted the two hospitals in Cork and Galway mentioned in the article. Eventually a doctor in Galway confirmed Mr Martin had been airlifted to the hospital for treatment in its decompression chamber.
“He told me straight away that he was paralysed and that it was very unlikely someone could survive this. He said he might lose his legs and that his kidneys had started to fail. I thought for sure he was going to die because I knew how deep he’d gone.”
Ms Chadwick’s neighbour booked her a last-minute flight to Dublin and at 5.45pm that same day she flew out. She arrived in Dublin the following morning, boarded a bus to Galway and went straight to the hospital.
“Kim was in a coma when I arrived and they said ‘we’re taking him to the chambers’. He was very unstable with partial heart failure and they told me there was a chance he wouldn’t survive. A consultant took me into a room and explained what would happen if he died. The nurse told me he wouldn’t make it through the night.”
The next day Mr Martin was diagnosed with hydrocephalus (fluid on the brain) and was transferred to Beaumont hospital in Dublin for emergency surgery. About a week later, after returning to hospital in Galway, he opened his eyes and started responding to basic commands after his sedation was lifted.
Seven weeks on, and following a tracheostomy to help him speak, Mr Martin is able to communicate again. “Right now we’re trying to save his hands and arms,” said Ms Chadwick. “There’s still limited use of his upper body and he’s connected to the oxygen machine. “
She has found support from the local community, particularly the B&B owner who initially refused to take payment but agreed to charge €25 a night after Ms Chadwick insisted on paying – invaluable during her nearly two months in Ireland.
As Mr Martin does not have insurance, a friend of the couple set up a GoFundMe page in August to help with costs. Ms Chadwick is trying to raise up to €100,000 to bring her partner back to Canada and says arrangements have been made for an air ambulance. “There are many charities who can bring a body home but medical repatriation is a lot more difficult. The hospital here are working hard to help but they need their bed back and Kim needs to start rehab.”
Despite the complexities of bringing her partner home, Ms Chadwick is immensely grateful he survived the incident. “All of a sudden things are in perspective. Kim has lost his legs but so few people get a second chance at life. My end goal is just that we can live independently. I don’t mourn my old life because I have so much to look forward to. This is the rest of our lives now and it’s about what we make of it.”