Wheelchair patient walks after 15 years thanks to scuba diving

This article was posted on 1 June 2018
Wheelchair patient walks after 15 years thanks to scuba diving

Scuba diving relieves pain and stiffness but problems return if he dives too shallow

Dutch man, Harry Beekelaar, was tied to his wheelchair for 15 years, due to Bechterew's disease. Then he started scuba diving and a 'miracle' happend. "The extreme pain is gone," a healthy Harry now says. "I sleep perfectly well, I hardly take any medication and.... I walk like I am 25 years old." Diving is now his passion and therapy, for as soon as he stops or dives to shallow, the problems return."

Scuba diving in Holland

Harry Beekelaar is a passionate sports diver in Holland and a true ambassador for the medical benefits of scuba diving. Becherew's disease is a chronic inflammation of joints, muscles and connective tissue, which leads to stiffness and extreme pain. Harry developed the disease at the age of 28. "In the end, I couldn't work, walk or even sleep due to the extreme pain in my back, hips and legs, he says." Then came scuba diving and it changed everything. Harry smiles in confirmation: "It gave me back my life."

Medical benefits of scuba diving

What medical effects led to this remarkable recovery? "It's all about pressure," Harry explains. "In order to suppress and repair the inflammations in my joints, extra oxygen is necessary in the affected areas. Under pressure our white blood cells transport oxygen, just like the red blood cells do, but far more efficiently causing the body to heal much faster."
Lourens Prins, a Dutch physician for dive medical examinations and treatments in Groningen, confirms Harrry's findings but warns for too much optimism at the same time.

"The benefits of oxygen are well known in medical science, but have never been scientifically proven. The effects can be caused by the diving itself or by the fluctuating clinical patern of the disease." Gerard Oynhausen, co-owner of the International Assosiation for Disabled Divers (IAHD) is more upfront: "Scuba diving holds many hidden treasures for the disabled. "We see the positive effects every day," he says, "and sometimes with spectacular results!"

Social consequences 

Looking back on his excperiences, Harry's advise to fellow patients is clear. "Don't throw away your life. Take on scuba diving for at least a couple of months and see what happens. An other option would be inhaling Nitrox, it has the same effect if you inhales ten minutes every day." Harry suffered from pain, discomfort and isolation for 15 years. He had to sell his jeweller's shop and give up every day activities, such as driving my car or going on a holidays.

In 1994 he hit rock botom, he collapsed and ended up in a wheelchair. "I was an old man on heavy medication with no life at all and a dangerously high blood pressure. I had to do something or I would eventually die from a heart attack. The only interesting sport suitable that I could think of, was scuba diving."

Free of complaints

The first improvements started almost a year after his first dive. "The pain became less and less intense and I was able to get out of my chair for extended periods of time." Years of improvement passed untill he was almost free of complaints. Today Harry Beekelaar is an active and happy middle aged man. "As long as I keep diving, I am oke," he says. Harry has to dive two times per week, at a minimum depth of 8 meters to keep out of trouble. He wrote a book about his excperiences and wants to help as many patients as he can, by telling his story to the world. 


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