Remote places are also remote from swift medical treatment

A.M. Costa Rica graphic Isla de Caño is north and west of the peninsula

A Canadian tourist who died after becoming ill on a snorkeling trip to Isla del Caño Monday marks the second fatality in four days caused by a health event while snorkeling near the island. An English tourist suffered a heart attack there Feb. 17.

Judicial police identified the dead Canadian as Hugh Heywood. He was 59 years old and visiting the area with a partner. He was on a snorkeling trip to the island when he began to feel bad, judicial agents said. He was taken by boat from the island to nearby Drake Bay on the mainland about 12 miles away. He was admitted to the small clinic there, but the medical staff was unable to help him.

Judicial Police have not released the exact cause of Heywood’s death, but local residents of Drake Bay say he suffered a heart attack.

The other dead man was 74-year-old Jonathan Fields. He was snorkeling near the island Friday when he had a heart attack, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization. He was taken by boat from the secluded island to a different clinic in the town of Sierpe where he too was unable to be saved.

The Cruz Roja, Costa Rica’s emergency medical response agency, reports that Isla del Caño, a remote national preserve, is not a good place to be in need of emergency medical attention. Its substantial distance from health centers can make any heart attack fatal.

Even to arrive at the closest clinics, in Sierpe or Drake Bay, can take a substantial length of time. And, both of the clinics have limited hours, staff and resources, said one Cruz Roja worker stationed in Ciudad Cortés, He said estimated travel time to arrive in Ciudad Cortés, which has the nearest 24-hour hospital to the island, is about one and a half hours if everything goes well. That journey requires nearly a one-hour leg by boat from the island northeast to Sierpe and then a 25-minute trip by vehicle to the hospital.

Rick Lane, who operates Caño Divers, a local company that conducts dive and snorkel tours for the hotel Pirate Cove in Drake Bay, said the two deaths are no reason to panic but should also act as reminders why it is important to follow all safety protocols before taking visitors to places such as Isla del Caño, where its pristine remoteness can be as dangerous as it is beautiful.

He said during 10 years as a daily tour operator his company has had no serious accidents. He said with every trip to the island he has his boats staffed with qualified personnel and stocked with a functioning radio, first-aid equipment and an oxygen supply in case a diver suffers from the bends and needs to be taken to a treatment facility. The nearest hyperbaric chamber, used to alleviate the depth-related malady, is also in Ciudad Cortés

Lane said in an effort to prevent someone from dying from a heart attack on one of his tours, if it should ever occur, he is planning on spending more than $5,000 to buy a portable defibrillator for his dive boat. He would be the first tour guide in the bay to have one.

“When someone has a heart attack, and the heart stops, CPR will keep that person alive for five minutes,” Lane said. “That’s designed for the United States when the ambulance comes in five minutes. Here the ambulance never comes.”

He said a portable defibrillator on the boat would give some who suffered a heart attack a chance to survive. But he added that even with all the precautions, death is sometimes unavoidable.

“Isla del Caño is not a dangerous place to dive,” Lane said. “But you can die in a swimming pool.”

Lane said about one death every other year is typical near the island but the two deaths in a row were a shock. He said it’s the worst situation the area has seen since a woman drowned several years ago and it was discovered that the tour guide didn’t have first aid equipment or a radio onboard the boat to call for help.

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