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Rescued American, who was seriously ill, looks forward to exploring another cave


OK. This is a wild story. Cave explorer Mark Dickey emerged above ground last week after a rescue operation that made news headlines around the world. Dickey became extremely sick after descending 3,000 feet into one of Turkey's deepest caves as part of an expedition. An international rescue team of nearly 200 people mobilized to rescue the American scientist. Now, today, he's on the mend and looking forward to getting back inside another cave. Mark Dickey joins me now from Turkey, along with his partner, Jessica Van Ord, who assisted in the rescue operation. Mark, Jessica, thanks for joining us. Mark, let's start with you on this, considering that you were the one trapped underground for 12 days. How are you feeling now?

MARK DICKEY: Yeah. Every single day I keep getting better. As of yesterday, I'm out and about in Ankara. It's great to be above ground and mobile.

MARTÍNEZ: Do you know what caused your internal bleeding? 'Cause that's what was happening down there in that cave.

DICKEY: That's actually been quite the challenge. So the amount of time between when the bleed happened to when we were able to get to definitive care and get imaging was pretty substantial. And then on top of that, they're obviously providing therapy, medication, treatment while I'm in the cave under transport. So the usual ability to diagnose these things has been severely hampered. So really the goal is not so much necessarily to be able to pinpoint exactly what happened, but to be able to say that there is a - there is no risk of this reoccurring in the future.

MARTÍNEZ: I mean, you were 3,000 feet underground. You start vomiting blood. Were you thinking, OK, this could be it?

DICKEY: There was a moment down there that that was the case. It certainly wasn't when I started vomiting blood, but it was after I kept vomiting blood and enough blood that the - you know, the body can only sustain so much blood loss before it gives out. And I was getting closer to that amount as time went on.

MARTÍNEZ: Jessica, you were with Mark during this expedition. I mean, technically, you were the first rescuer on scene, right? I mean, you were right there. What did you say to Mark?

JESSICA VAN ORD: When it first happened, he started listing off symptoms, and I was essentially just doing a medical assessment, asked him what he needed on the ground. He said privacy. And then back at camp, we were just - we were making plans. I was getting phone numbers of people we knew from European Cave Rescue Association, just everyone who would be useful in this incident.

MARTÍNEZ: Wow. Mark, can you describe what it feels like to be down there? I mean, as it is - what? - it would have taken - what? - 15 hours to get back up as far deep as you were for an experienced climber or caver with ideal conditions, right?

DICKEY: It is otherworldly. Caves exude a lot of fear for people, fear of the unknown. But caves are honestly very straightforward, and they're kind of stark, and they're kind of bare. You're talking rock, mud, dirt. You might be very lucky from a science standpoint and find new species, new bacterias, new cave-adapted creatures that are very small insects. And - but it's - the beauty comes from gorgeous carved stream passages with active water, you know, gushing through it, in cave cliffs that soar farther than the eye can see in the headlamps. This is where you're pushing human limits of exploration in the world that we know.

MARTÍNEZ: Jessica, what do you love about caving, especially as far deep as you two were?

VAN ORD: It's sort of my happy place. When I was exiting the cave and I heard that this had grown into a huge incident with media waiting on the surface for us, I just took a minute to turn off my light and sit in the complete darkness of the cave.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. Cave explorers Mark Dickey and Jessica Van Ord. Happy that both of you are healthy and above ground. I'm sure you're going to go back, as you mentioned, really soon. Thanks for joining us.

DICKEY: Absolutely. Our pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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