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Severe Neurological Decompression Sickness in a U-2 Pilot

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Jersey SL, Baril RT, McCarty RD, Millhouse CM. Severe neurological decompression sickness in a U-2 pilot. Aviat Space Environ Med 2010; 81:64–8.

Severe neurological decompression sickness (DCS) has been a rare entity in the U.S. Air Force, including the U-2 community. In over 50 yr of operation, few U-2 pilots reported severe neurological DCS in flight despite the extreme altitudes at which they operate. This article describes a near-fatal case of neurological DCS that occurred during a combat mission. The injury left the pilot with permanent cognitive deficits that correlated with focal lesions present on magnetic resonance imaging of his brain. To our knowledge, the images presented herein are the first to show radiological evidence of brain injury induced by altitude DCS. Though only a single case, the objective and clinical findings in the case pilot are similar to results documented in divers suffering DCS with central nervous system injury and victims of traumatic brain injury. DCS will remain a potentially serious threat to current and future air and space operations.
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Keywords: U-2; altitude; case report; decompression sickness; magnetic resonance imaging; neurological symptoms; traumatic brain injury

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2010

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