Grieving Wife Blames State for Husband’s Snorkeling Death

( – On February 25, 2022, Ray Johnson went snorkeling with some friends at Wailea Beach in Maui, Hawaii having arrived from Michigan on the evening of February 23. Unfortunately, Ray died on the beach that day.

The official listed cause of death was drowning, but his wife, Patricia Johnson believes he died of Rapid Onset Pulmonary Edema (ROPE). Patricia is suing the Hawaiian Tourism Authority, the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau and the resort in Maui the couple were staying at. She feels that with proper warning of this lesser-known medical condition her husband’s death could have been averted.

While an autopsy has no way to tell the difference between drowning and ROPE because they both cause death from fluid in the lungs, the onset is very different. The swimmer’s lungs fill with bodily fluids, and according to pulmonologist Dr. Phillip R. Foti they panic, become weak and sometimes fall unconscious. Ray showed many of these classic signs. An experienced snorkeler, Ray told his friend he was having trouble breathing and they started for shore. He then fell backward, and his friend had to pull him the rest of the way. Despite efforts to save him, he died there on the beach.

According to the Hawaii Department of Health’s Snorkel Safety Sub-Committee one of the risk factors for ROPE is recent air travel. The Johson family’s attorney, Jay Stuemke says that waiting three full days after air travel can reduce the risk significantly. Patricia claims that if Ray had known that he would have waited. The Johnsons were in Hawaii for two weeks and had plenty of time for different kinds of activities. The lawsuit accuses Hawaii’s tourism authority and other groups of not taking the necessary steps to warn tourists, although the information is readily available to them.

Since the death of her husband, Patricia has taken it upon herself to warn people of ROPE. She has had cards printed detailing the condition, symptoms and preventative measures. Whenever she hears anyone mention a snorkeling trip, she gives them a card so that what happened to Ray won’t happen to them. While the Hawaiian Tourism Authority has funded a study to help develop safety messages regarding ROPE, there isn’t a public-facing campaign raising awareness yet. Compared to 20 local resident deaths from snorkeling accidents between 2012 and 2021 there have been 184 similar deaths of tourists.

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