A Kiwi paralysed while diving into a pool in Panama during a sailing adventure around the world, hopes to return to the country for treatment unavailable in New Zealand.
Marcel Syron, 45, was sailing around the world on a yacht he bought in Greece when an accident in a swimming pool on March 26 changed the course of his life.
“I had a wonderful time going through the Greek Islands, swimming with turtles and dolphins, but my memories kind of stopped there until I woke up in hospital in Panama.
From what I’ve been told, it was bloody hot in Panama, so we decided to swim in a pool at the marina. We started diving in and my head hit the bottom of the pool, breaking my neck.”
No one noticed what happened at first as he was on the bottom of the pool, meaning he was submerged for almost seven minutes.
“My crew mates carried me out of the pool and gave me CPR, but since I was down for so long, it caused a brain injury, along with hitting my head on the ground.”
Syron now has incomplete tetraplegia, meaning he’s paralysed from the waist down and has limited movement in his arms, hands and fingers.
“I spent four months in hospital in Panama, during that time I got pneumonia which almost killed me, and I was in an induced coma for three weeks.”
Eventually, Syron was able to fly home, accompanied by a doctor and a nurse, at a cost of $94,000, which he was able to afford with the help of Givealittle donations and selling his yacht.
He spent two months in Middlemore Hospital and is now in the Auckland spinal rehab unit. He was due to be released in mid-January and would then be taken to a rest home.
“There’s a lot to process, a lot of grief, but it has made me realise what really matters in life – friends, family and, above all, your health.
“It’s definitely changed me in some ways, it was pain like I had never experienced before on all levels, not just physically.”
Syron hoped he could now return to Panama in a “full circle moment” to receive stem cell therapy which wasn’t available in New Zealand.
”I heard about the treatment from another guy who had the treatment and said he’d found it to be a real help.
”I’m hopeful the treatment will make a positive difference to my health, mobility and general well-being by giving me more movement in my hands and arms.”
It would cost around $100,000 for Syron and his friend Ray Carver, who was training to be his caregiver, to travel to Panama and back and pay for the treatment along with accomodation. Due to Syron’s condition, he would need to fly business class, so he could lie down.
They would need to spend at least two weeks in Panama for treatment, which would include injecting stem cells from umbilical cord blood into his spine.
The other issue Syron faced was the long waiting list for stem cell therapy, which meant he might have to wait over a year.
Carver said this was an issue as the treatment had a better chance of working if it was administered within a year of the accident.
“The best time for Marcel to have this treatment was yesterday, so we’re really hoping we can find some way to get in sooner,” Carver said.
Syron said it would be “bittersweet” to return to Panama, and he hoped one day he’d be able to complete his original plan and sail back to New Zealand from there.
Carver has set up a Givealittle page to help pay for the treatment and travel costs associated with it.