Nonprofit plans to take therapeutic scuba deeper with $300 million proposal – Daily Herald

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A Downers Grove-based nonprofit is fundraising for a $300 million underwater education and research facility in North Chicago envisioned as a worldwide attraction for those with disabilities, scientists, and others.

Exterior of the proposed $300 million Diveheart education and research facility in North Chicago.
Courtesy of Diveheart

Diveheart, which specializes in zero-gravity scuba diving therapy programs, describes the Deep Pool Project as an ambitious initiative with the world’s deepest warm water pool as the centerpiece.

A cutaway of the deep pool telescoping down with some of it above grade for viewing and a look at the geo-thermal field which will help heat the net-zero facility. The design is patented.
Courtesy of Diveheart

Planned for a 130-foot depth, the patented telescoping pool design would replicate the benefits of open water diving without the variables of weather and other factors, according to the organization. Exhibition and training pools also are proposed as part of the center.

Established in 2001, Diveheart’s mission is to build confidence, independence and self-esteem in children, veterans and others with disabilities using zero-gravity adaptive scuba and scuba therapy.

The organization works with people with physical and developmental disabilities, vision and hearing impairments, amputations, traumatic brain injuries, autism, chronic pain and other conditions to expand their mobility.

A Diveheart volunteer assists an adaptive diver during an outdoor pool session.
Courtesy of Diveheart

Working underwater allows those with disabilities to do things they can’t do on land where they are constrained by gravity, says Diveheart founder and President Jim Elliott. The idea for a permanent facility originated about 17 years ago.

“This is getting out of your wheelchair and getting in the water and experiencing something you’ve never experienced before,” he said.

Goals of the center would be to conduct research and rehabilitation and to provide education, training and vocational opportunities for abilities.

A collage of images taken from Diveheart pool programs and adaptive scuba trips.
Courtesy of Diveheart

“This facility isn’t just about scuba diving,” Diveheart’s Executive Director Tinamarie Hernandez explained in a video about the project.

“It’s about taking a person with a disability and helping them have a paradigm shift where they no longer think of themselves as a person with a disability but someone who has many possibilities in their lives,” she added.

As envisioned, the facility would be a destination not only to support Diveheart’s mission but advanced medical and scientific research on the effects of a zero-gravity and hyperbaric oxygen therapy on conditions such as aging, arthritis, chronic pain, stroke, spinal cord injuries, ALS and others, according to the organization.

The concept is planned as a sustainable business with revenues to include long- and short-term contracts with universities, foundations, individuals and others.

“This is going to usher in a whole new area of research,” according to Elliott.

A permanent center was envisioned for the Western suburbs but when that didn’t materialize the entire state was considered, Elliott said.

North Chicago, home of James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center, came to his attention and a 10-acre site was identified with the help of Lake County Partners, the county’s economic development agency.

Lake County Partners felt there would be a strong connection with Lovell, Naval Station Great Lakes and Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science and would benefit from a large pool of life science and health care professionals in the area, said Barbara Prusila, marketing and communications director.

“Lake County has the talent, strong partnerships, investment potential and commitment to quality of life necessary to make a project of this caliber happen,” she added.

Diveheart and its experts have conducted international adaptive scuba symposiums and presented to medical groups worldwide. In 2023, the organization presented the benefits of scuba therapy to physicians at the Mayo Clinic and are scheduled to return in spring.

Fundraising is ongoing.

“There will be nothing like it in the world,” according to Elliott. “If enough people hear the story, it will happen.”

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