- Tommy Mollo, 60, fell off a boat but pulled himself out of the water
- He complained of feeling unwell three hours later
- Doctors say water inhaled may have exacerbated existing health problems
A man who fell into deep water but pulled himself to safety died of secondary drowning a few hours later.
Tommy Mollo, 60, fell off a friend’s boat as he helped move it at a marina in the Long Island Sound, New Rochelle.
Despite getting himself out of the water Mr Mollo, of Yonkers, N.Y., complained to his wife three hours later that he felt unwell when he returned to his apartment.
Plunge: Mr Mollo fell off the boat while helping a friend at a marina (pictured) in the Lond Island Sound in New Rochelle
She dialled 911 and Mr Mollo was rushed to hospital, but despite emergency treatment he died.
Doctors described Mr Mollo’s death as an unusual case of secondary drowning.
Water that got into Mr Mollo’s lungs led to breathing difficulties which could have been exacerbated by medical issues he already had, television network WABC-TV reported.
Medics said the relatively rare phenomenon probably began with his self-rescue. It typically occurs when someone almost drowns – with water entering the lungs – but they survive.
Dr Gabe Wilson, associate director of St Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital in New York City, told ABC news: ‘Conceivably water could be inhaled while one still had the means to pull themselves out, but it would certainly be a rare occurrence as usually panic sets in by then.’
The water that entered the lungs can start to cause problems rapidly, with an onset ranging from between one and 48 hours.
Rare: In cases of secondary drowning, inhaling salt water – like that found in the Long Island Sound (pictured) – can more more harmful to the lungs than fresh water
Because problems develop so quickly, there is no known warning signs, which means anyone who has a near-drowning experience should still seek emergency medical advice for potential 24-hour observation.
Secondary drowning can cause lung damage because water comes into direct contact with the lining cells, impeding functions like supplying oxygen and removing carbon dioxide.
Damage can be especially severe when salt water is inhaled into the lungs.
According to ABC News, Dr Wilson added: ‘It’s conceivable that the drowning episode and lack of oxygen led to a heart problem, like a cardiac arrhythmia or a myocardial infarct (heart attack).’
He added that, with prompt medical attention, secondary drownings would be survivable,