DAN AP Member Peter Wilson has endured huge challenges over the past decade, having nearly lost his life and being told by doctors he would be unlikely to walk again. Then he discovered scuba diving and felt extremely free in the water. Inspired, Peter is working to share a scuba diving experience with other people that are physically impaired.

In 2007, life as Peter Wilson knew it changed forever, when he lost control of his motorbike and was run over by a car. At aged 27, married and a father of two children, he was given a 20-percent chance of survival. Peter passed the critical survival stage and was told to prepare for the fact he may never walk again. Peter refused to believe this and within 12 months of the accident was walking again, not perfectly, but proving the doctors wrong.

Some two years later, Peter was getting on with his new life, when he came across a full set of scuba gear for sale. This triggered a memory of diving when he was much younger and how a career in scuba diving was always top of his list. So he purchased the set, and then quickly discovered he couldn’t use any of it because it was 30 years old.

After being told by the first dive operator he approached that he would be a burden to other students buddied up with him, and that he shouldn’t learn to dive because of his physical injuries, he obtained medical clearance and found a dive operator that was completely understanding of his needs and welcomed him. Peter says: “I quickly caught the diving bug and was soon an Advanced Open Water Diver and ticking off my specialties as fast as I could afford them. I currently hold six specialties and a Master Scuba Diver certification. When I first got involved in diving, I had no idea how much it would help with my long-term recovery.”

Scuba diving can open up a world of freedom of movement for people who might have physical challenges (Photo courtesy of Peter Wilson)

In 2015, having been in the same industry for 16 years, Peter resigned to explore how he could introduce other people to a controlled diving experience that was focused on the therapeutic benefits of being weightless, as opposed to open water diving: “I was also driven by the memory of how badly I was treated, and wondered how many other people with physical impairments were missing out because they were so disheartened by how they were treated. I thought it would be amazing to create a programme that could be part of a person’s therapy and rehabilitation. Diving had given me so much in so many ways; I had become strong where I was once weak; I had joy where once there was sadness; I had many friends where once I had few. I wanted to take all those benefits and bundle them up so I could share them with the world.”

From this desire, Controlled SCUBA Experience was born. Peter approached Dr David Wilkinson, Director of Hyperbaric Medicine at the Royal Adelaide Hospital and Director of the DAN Divers Emergency Service (Ed Note: Dr Wilkinson is also a DAN AP Board Member).

“In a first meeting with Dr Wilkinson, I was joined by 21-year old Ben Everson who is a C4–C5 complete quadriplegic who wanted to use scuba. Ben was keen to learn to dive and was prepared to participate in all the trials during the programme’s development.

Immersion therapy is being recognised as a valuable rehabilitation tool (Photo courtesy of Peter Wilson)

It was during the trials that the Immersion Therapy programme was born, which utilises scuba equipment in a controlled environment to give people living with a disability or significant injury a feeling of weightlessness to increase their activity and well-being. The programme was developed to allow special consideration towards those who may not necessarily meet existing diving medical restrictions, and would be excluded from scuba diving.

“Since our first trials we have held sessions with people with a range of disabilities and Dr Wilkinson has been there to guide us throughout the journey, creating a checklist for participants to complete and has been heavily involved in the assessment of each and every person within the Immersion Therapy programme. He hopes to produce key standards specific to the Controlled SCUBA Experience, and especially the Immersion Therapy programme, allowing others to assess those who previously couldn’t be assessed. Safety is our first priority, and every precaution has been taken to understand the needs of our clients.”

The programme has received support from various government departments, even gaining recognition as a form of rehabilitation from Return to Work South Australia. The Immersion Therapy programme is now an approved and registered provider, meaning injured workers are able to use Peter’s specialised programme as part of their recovery/treatment plan (Ed Note: It’s important to mention that the service is offered at no out of pocket cost to anyone living with a disability and the programme relies on support from the community as many clients don’t have access to mainstream funding like Return to Work SA.)

Many of the participants will never be able to become fully certified divers, but many have recorded a gain in strength and an improvement in their general well-being through the social aspect of the programme.

Read the rest of this article in No. 88 Issue 7/2016 of Scuba Diver magazine by subscribing here or check out all of our publications here.

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