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June 23, 2006 5:17 PM   Subscribe

Skydiving with respiratory condition...should I try it? Is it safe? Am I batshit insane? Skydivers and medical sorts are most welcome to reply!

A friend wants a few of us to go on a tandem dive from 11,500 feet next weekend for his birthday.

As somebody who is mortally afraid of heights, but kinda likes to experience life, this is simultaneously both mind-numbingly frightening and really, really neat. (We have this plan to land, strip out of our jumpsuits to reveal dapper black suit-and-tie combos, and have bikini girls run up to us with martinis, cigars, and guns on silver platters. This probably won't happen in actuality, but it is fun to dream...)

My question specifically is not about the safety of the sport itself, but about breathing and how it pertains to my specific condition.

I have about 17% average lung capacity due to a physical restraint on my breathing, and all of my breathing is done via my diaphragm.

Will I be able to breathe up there? Is this safe for me? I can get around basically OK on the surface, minus exertion. How will I breathe at altitude? Am I utterly crazy for even thinking about this?

*footnote*: To give some background for the medically inclined out there, I was born with a more-or-less average case of pectus excavatum. Not too, too severe, but not too light, either.

At the time, the doctors thought my recurrent respiratory problems were due to that, and decided to operate. A Nuss procedure was performed when I was 2 years old -- at the time, it was the youngest such procedure on record. Usually, it is performed on teenagers.

Turned out they were wrong. The PE wasn't affecting my breathing so much as my asthma was. I grew out of the asthma eventually, but unfortunately the doctor who rushed hold the title of "youngest Nuss procedure" botched the operation and destroyed the cartilage around my sternum -- resulting in the fusion of my front chest wall into a fairly good and solid mass.

This also had the effect of hindering proper growth of my ribcage as I grew up -- I basically grew into a cage, and breathing became more and more difficult as I got older.

These days, I have about 16-18% normal lung capacity, but because I grew into that so gradually (giving my body basically 19 years to adapt), I can carry on just fine, barring strenuous cardio exercise. I can't run, swim, sing on key, etc, etc.... I look forward to finally having a chest wall expansion surgery in the next couple of years.
posted by kaseijin to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
IANAD, but I did a skydiving course a few years ago and did 20 or so jumps before I ran out of money.

As a person with normal lung capacity, I had no trouble breathing up there. I didn't notice any difference to breathing on the ground, except that the air is rushing into your face a bit faster than usual. If you can breathe on the ground, then you should be able to breathe up there. 10,000 feet is not enough to make the air disastrously thin.

The only thing I can think of is that when you exit the plane, you'll get really excited and breathe much faster, which may (?) be a problem. But this isn't really a problem because freefall from 10,000 feet takes less than a minute, so at the very worst you'll just have to hold your breath.

Once the chute is deployed, you breathe just as you do on the ground.

Good luck! It's an absolute blast, I hope you have a great time.
posted by twirlypen at 5:56 PM on June 23, 2006

The only thing you would need to be concerned about here is respiratory problems due to panic.

Interestingly enough, I've read that you do not need to breathe during freefall! Your body apparently absorbs sufficient oxygen through the skin during freefall because it's being exposed to oxygen molecules so quickly.

I can't say with 100% certainty that it's true, but google and snopes didn't disprove it, and it's conceivable.

I did a tandem jump, and it was awesome. I didn't find the whole experience to be some sort of "extreme" sport or "rush" though, I actually found it to be pretty peaceful, freefall included.

I really hate to end a post with this, but I think the right thing to do in this case to be sure is to consult a doctor who is familiar with your condition.
posted by twiggy at 7:54 PM on June 23, 2006

I'll never understand why people would ask these sorts of things to random internet people and not their doctors, but that's neither here nor there...

A thread on a PE board by someone with a "moderate-severe" case that enjoys frequent skydiving.
posted by Rhomboid at 8:43 PM on June 23, 2006

No answer to your medical question, but if it gets the a-ok then i will repeat my advice to you from the other day...


How else will I live vicariously through you?
posted by nadawi at 8:54 PM on June 23, 2006

Response by poster: I'll never understand why people would ask these sorts of things to random internet people and not their doctors

Well, that would be because I am self-employed and, as such, lack medical insurance. I keep some in savings, should I get sick, but random consultation like this? I don't want to pay. =P

I casually asked two RN's and one MD before posting here, though. They said go for it, but none of them have ever been skydiving, and really... I just sorta want a variety of input and experiences. Who knows - somewhere in the hive mind, there may be a phsyician who skydives!

That said, the link was great! Thanks! :)

That also sounds rather neat about the O2 absorption through the skin. I'll have to look into that.

And Nads: If I go, I'll bring back pics!
posted by kaseijin at 9:04 PM on June 23, 2006

Apparently the O2 absorption thing is crap. I did some more googling and while all of the sources seem rather .. well .. not something well known like Snopes, etc, the several saying it's not true just seem to be a little more credible than the one or two i've found that say it is true.
posted by twiggy at 9:51 PM on June 23, 2006

Previously discussed, sorta.

In the end, I decided not to go skydiving even though everyone in the thread said, "do it!"

A number of people had "I almost died" stories, and this number was greater then what I expected. Assuming that AskMe is a pretty random sample, I decided that the risk just wasn't worth it.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:46 PM on June 23, 2006

Could you maybe try a tandem jump the first time to make _sure_ you don't faint?
posted by amtho at 8:18 AM on June 24, 2006

A New Zealand man recently died, supposedly of a heart attack, on his second solo jump. The impression I got at the time was that he would still have been allowed to jump with a previous heart condition but he did not disclose his heart problems to the skydiving company. He probably wouldn't have been allowed to jump solo had they known.
posted by tracicle at 2:19 PM on June 24, 2006

Response by poster: For the record... I did it -- tandem jump. I loved it! :)
posted by kaseijin at 7:44 PM on July 1, 2006

posted by nadawi at 9:18 AM on July 2, 2006

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