Passenger falls ill during a 10-hour flight: the doctor on board keeps him alive until they land
February 03, 2023
Traveling by plane is often peaceful and perhaps even a little boring, especially if it's a long distance flight: in fact, it's not so nice to spend hours sitting in a seat staring at the clouds, but luckily you are able to watch movies or read books en route on most airplanes these days. However, a recent flight from London to India was very eventful: Dr Vishwaraj Vemala - consultant hepatologist at the University Hospitals of Birmingham, England - miraculously saved the life of a passenger who almost died twice during the 10-hour journey.
Dr Vemala was flying from the UK to India to take his mother back to Bangalore, when the crew of Flight AI128 began a frantic search for a doctor: a 43-year-old passenger, with no known medical issues, was slumped in the aisle of the plane, suffering what appeared to be a cardiac arrest. Dr Vemala immediately intervened: "I asked the crew if they had any medicines. Luckily they had an emergency kit which, to my great surprise, included the medicines and equipment I needed,” he said.
The crew supplied the doctor with oxygen and a defibrillator, while other passengers on board offered Dr Vemala a heart rate monitor, a blood pressure machine, a pulse meter and a glucometer to monitor the patient's vital signs. After being resuscitated, the 43-year-old man regained consciousness and began to speak, but shortly afterwards went into cardiac arrest again: "He had a weak pulse and very low blood pressure for nearly two hours of the flight; together with the crew, we kept him alive for five hours in total," said Dr Vemala.
Given the passenger's condition, the pilot asked for permission to land at the nearest airport - which was in Pakistan - but to no avail. Instead, they managed to land at Mumbai airport in India, where a medical team was ready for the patient. “It was extremely scary for all of us. We breathed a sigh of relief when we learned that we could land in Mumbai. When we landed, the passenger had been revived and was able to speak to me. I made sure that he was taken to hospital to be checked," said Dr Vemala.
For Dr. Vemala, this was the first time he had treated a patient for cardiac arrest in conditions like this: "As a hepatologist, I treat extremely sick patients like those who have had a liver transplant. But I don't think I have ever dealt with a cardiac arrest during the course of my work. Obviously, during my medical training, this was something I had already faced, but never at an altitude of 30,000 feet!". It was also the first time that his mother had seen him in action: the woman wept tears of pride at seeing how skilled her son was.
The passenger was was admitted to hospital accompanied by the detailed notes written by Dr Vemala: "The patient thanked me with tears in his eyes. He said to me: 'I am forever indebted to you for saving my life'. It was truly a moment that I will remember for the rest of my life," Dr Vemala said.
What can we say? Doctors are truly modern-day heros!