After 23 minutes of breathing pure oxygen, David takes what will be his last breath for—hopefully—the next quarter of an hour. The last thing he does, Dr. Potkin says, is a technique called "lung packing."
"He's filled up his lungs totally as much as they can be with air. He's forcing air into his lungs from the top of the lungs. They're already filled as much as they can be," he says. "Pulmonary doctors a year or so ago didn't even think this was possible that somebody could increase [his] lung size voluntarily. As he does this, his lungs are re-expanding, and his blood pressure and his heart rate can dramatically change as well."
With the clock ticking away, David remains motionless in his 20,000-pound sphere. Every slight movement uses his oxygen, which is made even more precious by David's high heart rate. Steady at around 100 beats per minute, David's heart rate has dropped slightly, but it's still higher than what Dr. Potkin would like it to be.
After an unbelievable eight minutes without breathing, David gets his first time notification from Mandy-Rae and Kirk, two free divers who have helped him with his training. "Until now, he doesn't really know how long he's been holding his breath," Mandy-Rae says. "Now, Kirk is going to start letting him know every once in a while."
After 11 minutes pass, Oprah says the next few minutes are not only the most dangerous...they're also the most difficult for David.
During practice dives, David says he could feel carbon dioxide building up in his body as the clock ticked closer to 16 minutes. "That's when it's the fight," he says. "I would say the last six minutes is when—even though I have to remain perfectly still—I'm actually fighting the hardest. If you see me start to do these convulsions, then that's the real hard part."
David says it's so difficult because the body has a natural urge to breathe. "It's overwhelming," he says. "You're fighting really hard to override what your brain is telling you your body needs to do."
When the pain starts to build, David says he tries to remove himself from the moment. "I imagine getting sucked into the abyss of the ocean almost," he says. "I don't have any thoughts. I empty everything out and become perfectly still."
Sinking into another level of consciousness allows David to slow his heart rate and change the way he experiences time. "When the heart rate slows down, everything slows down. Time changes during that," he says. "It doesn't feel like 16 minutes, which is a good length of time. It feels more like one moment compressed."
At 14 minutes and 30 seconds into the attempt, Dr. Potkin starts to get concerned about David's heart rate, which is still at more than 100 beats per minute. "I would have thought he'd be in the 40s or 50s," he says. "Maybe that will be coming later."
Though things aren't going exactly as they planned, Dr. Potkin still has confidence in David's ability and believes he'll break the record. "Maybe he'll go to 18 or 20 [minutes]," he says. "Who knows?"
David's face looks calm, but Dr. Potkin says he's probably experiencing serious abdominal discomfort and diaphragm spasms at this point. "He's having pain, no question," he says.
With just one minute to go, David's heart rate starts to slow significantly. It drops from more than 100 beats per minute to 70...then 60. Dr. Potkin also notices an irregular heart rhythm. "There's low oxygen in the body, and his body's responding," he says. "He's in a survival mode right now."
As the clock passes 16 minutes, David rises to the top of the sphere and rests right below the surface. "Come on," Oprah says. "You can do it. You can do it!"
Oprah and the audience hold their breaths as the final seconds tick down.Watch the pressure-filled final test!
David outlasts the previous record of 16 minutes, 32 seconds...and keeps going! Finally, at 17 minutes, 4.4 seconds, he breaks the surface of the water and takes his first breath as a Guinness World Record holder. His lifelong dream has finally come true.
Although the experience was intense, David emerges safely and says he feels great. "I feel slightly emotional. I feel good about it and pretty happy," he says. "I can't believe that I did that."
At one point, he says he had a moment of doubt when he noticed his heart rate was higher than normal. "I was going to fight hard, but I was not sure," he says. "I'd never done it with such a high heart rate."
David says there were a few factors that made his attempt more difficult than in practice sessions. "I had never done it suspended just by my feet," he says. "Normally, I just kind of free float, and this time I was aware of the feet and being pulled upward, so it was a little different."
The beeping heart monitor also made David aware of his irregular heart beat, which he says is why he floated toward the surface at the end.
During an extended breath-holding exercise, David usually meditates and reaches another state of consciousness—but not this time. For almost the entire 17 minutes, he says he was aware of his surroundings. He even opened his eyes at one point to focus on the studio's lights. "The lights were actually helpful," he says. "There were flecks of light on the sphere, and I was using that to kind of try to meditate a little bit."
When things get tough, David says he thinks of his deceased mother. "I always feel her with me," he says. In honor of the woman who raised him, he says he would have liked to hold his breath for 23 minutes. "That's a crazy dream. That's my mother's birth date and a lucky number in my life."
Stuart Claxton, a representative from Guinness World Records, is here to present David with a plaque making his record-breaking time official. "Congratulations," Stuart says.
Now that he's tested the human body's lung capacity, what will he put himself through next? David reveals that he'd like to try to claim the world record for staying awake the longest. The current record is 11 and a half days. "So 11.57 days would be a million seconds," he says.
When David encased himself in an ice block in 2000, he says the cold was not the most difficult thing to endure. It was the sleep deprivation that nearly drove him mad. "It was the most difficult endurance thing that I'd ever played with, and I was always kind of afraid of it," he says. "I think after three or four days without sleep ... I was hallucinating, so it was a beautiful and a crazy and intense experience, but it was also scary to not have control."
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