Scuba diving is therapy for wounded troops

Mon May 11, 2009 12:59am EDT
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By Jane Sutton

KEY LARGO, Florida (Reuters) - It took nearly half an hour to slick up quadriplegic British Royal Marine Dominic Lovett with baby shampoo and tug him into a neoprene wetsuit.

Then six scuba instructors carried him on a mat from the sandy shore into the turquoise sea off the Florida Keys, where he briefly felt freedom from his injuries.

For 20 minutes, Lovett scooted around a shallow lagoon with a motorized propeller strapped to his air tank, making his first ocean dive since he was paralyzed from the neck down in a military training accident 15 months ago.

"Absolutely fantastic," Lovett said. "Brilliant, absolutely brilliant."

"I'm so happy," said Lovett, one of three wounded British war veterans who joined a dozen wounded U.S. troops for a week of diving in the islands off Florida's southern tip in May.

The twice-yearly Warrior Dive in Key Largo promotes scuba diving as rehabilitative therapy.

It started with a group of wounded soldiers from the 101st Airborne at the U.S. Army's Fort Campbell in Kentucky, and has grown to include outpatients from the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, and Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

Fraser Bathgate, vice president and training director for the International Association for Handicapped Divers, was invited to Fort Campbell in 2007 to train wounded soldiers who formed the Eagle Divers club. He introduced them to divers in Key Largo.   Continued...