Ed Thalmann, M.D., Assistant Medical Director at DAN, Dies

7/26/2004 3:20:32 PM
Ed Thalmann, M.D., an Assistant Medical Director of Divers Alert Network for nine years, died July 24 in his Durham, N.C., home. He was 59.

Dr. Thalmann, regarded as one of the world's foremost authorities on diving decompression, joined DAN in July 1995 as one of the organization's assistant medical director. He functioned as the physician resource for DAN medics, consulting with dive medicine physicians who treated patients worldwide. He headed DAN's continuing education programs for the medical staff and on-call doctors; he also participated in numerous research efforts.

Michael D. Curley, Ph.D., president and CEO of DAN, was a longtime colleague of Thalmann's, beginning in the U.S. Navy. "We mourn the passing of a truly prodigious talent, a wonderful diving physician and a fine man," Curley said. "During the past 25 years Ed Thalmann guided and inspired a generation of dedicated researchers in undersea medicine; his high standards of excellence and commitment to improving diving safety are gratefully acknowledged.

"Ed led by example, exhibiting courage by performing the same arduous experimental dives as his volunteers and risking the 'bends' and oxygen-induced seizures underwater. Whether developing new guidelines for decompression, diver thermal protection, underwater breathing apparatus or exposure to underwater sound, Ed always kept focused on improving diver safety. He leaves a great legacy of scientific excellence which we seek to emulate."

Peter B. Bennett, Ph.D., D.Sc., founder and former DAN president and former CEO of DAN, praised Dr. Thalmann's work both at DAN and Duke University Medical Center. "Dr. Thalmann's long U.S. Navy career and his vast expertise on decompression theory and practice have been a great asset since he joined DAN on his retirement from the U.S. Navy," Bennett said. "His unique contributions will be very much missed by all his DAN and Duke Hyperbaric Center colleagues."

Dan Orr, executive vice president of DAN, described Dr. Thalmann as a dynamic and passionate personality. "He was always willing to contribute his ideas to any conversation or a debate on any subject related to dive medicine or safety," Orr said. "His many contributions - as a medical officer in the U.S. Navy, as staff member at Duke Medical Center and as assistant medical director at DAN - have certainly improved the body of knowledge in the field of diving medicine and our industry.

"As a result of his contributions, all DAN members are safer. We are all better because of him and we are diminished by his loss."

While at DAN, Dr. Thalmann also worked on the Duke University Medical Center medical staff, the Duke Anesthesiology Department and at the Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Environmental Physiology. There, he participated in both patient care (dive accidents and clinical hyperbaric oxygen treatments) and in medical research programs.

With Richard D. Vann, Ph.D., DAN Vice President of Research, he co-authored the decompression physiology chapter of the third edition of The Physiology and Medicine of Diving and he wrote a section on decompression sickness for the Handbook of Physiology, Adaptation of the Environment.

Dr. Thalmann retired from the U.S. Navy in 1993 after 22 years. While in the Navy, he helped develop operational procedures for diving, testing and evaluation of diving life-support equipment and medical research programs.

Projects included the development of new diving decompression tables (surface-supplied and saturation), measuring the performance of and writing specifications for diver thermal protective equipment, studying the effects of underwater exercise on diver performance and improving underwater breathing apparatus design and testing.

While in the service, he spent a year as the medical officer aboard the nuclear Polaris submarine USS Thomas Jefferson, and he was assigned to the Navy Experimental Diving Unit (NEDU), in Washington, D.C. and Panama City, Fla. At NEDU, he was mainly involved in decompression table development, treatment of decompression sickness (the "bends") and in formulating 100 percent oxygen exposure limits. He spearheaded two major revisions to the Diving Medicine chapter of the U.S. Navy Diving Manual in 1985 and 1993.

He also did a two-year postdoctoral fellowship under Claes Lundgren and Hermann Rahn at the University of Buffalo; there he studied the effects of immersion and breathing bag placement in rebreathers on underwater exercise as deep as 190 fsw / 58 msw breathing air.

From 1985-87, he worked as the U.S. Navy exchange officer with the Institute of Naval Medicine in England, continuing decompression table development and working with the Royal Marines on improving their thermal protection garments.

Dr. Thalmann finished his tour in the Navy at the Naval Medical Research Institute in Bethesda, Md. as its head of diving medicine and physiology research. There, he was principal investigator for the Navy's decompression research program.

Dr. Thalmann attended medical school at Georgetown University.

He is survived by Brenda Thalmann, former wife, and two daughters: Amanda and Katherine Thalmann, both of Durham, N.C.

Visitation was Tuesday, July 26 at the Howerton-Bryan Funeral Home, 1005 W. Main St., Durham, NC 27701. Funeral services were held Wednesday, July 27 at Howerton-Bryan Funeral Home chapel. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Dr. Thalmann's name to:

Durham Rescue Mission
507 E. Knox St.
Durham, NC 27701