Doctor Helps Airline Passenger During Medical Emergency

Our caregivers never know when duty will call. For Dr. Tyler, it was at 35,000 feet.Dr. Tyler with his  wife and two daughters in Hawaii during Christmas vacation

Dr. Tyler and his family were on a flight returning from a Christmas vacation in Hawaii. Approximately two hours into the flight, a flight attendant made a request overhead for assistance from any medical personnel onboard to assist a man in need of medical assistance at the back of the plane.

In Good Hands

Two passengers responded to the call – a retired rehabilitation nurse and Dr. Tyler. With his background in family medicine and urgent care, the flight attendants were confident the man was in good hands.

The passenger quickly became a patient – a man in his mid-50’s, who was traveling with his wife and daughter. He was in a significant amount of abdominal pain.

Dr. Tyler assessed the patient and understood he had a history of pancreatitis – a disease in which the pancreas becomes inflamed and ranges from mild discomfort to a life-threatening illness.

In addition to the severe pain, the patient had a rapid pulse, sweaty, and began hyperventilating.

“This was all very new to me to attend to a patient on an airplane,” stated Dr. Tyler. “I asked the flight attendant if there was medical equipment onboard – we needed to check vitals and make an immediate assessment.”

The flight attendant produced a medical emergency kit. Dr. Tyler and the nurse quickly grabbed what they needed, took the patient’s vitals, and began recording the information.

Helpful Hands

Dr. Tyler assessed the pain was most likely due to a pancreatitis flare up, but an emergency landing was not needed, as the patient did not have any signs of an acute abdomen or other immediate medical emergency.

“Hydration is a key part of treatment for pancreatitis, so we needed to start an IV right away,” said Dr. Tyler.

But starting an IV in very crowded conditions with minimal lighting and no IV pole was not going to be easy.

“The passengers around me were very helpful,” stated Dr. Tyler. “They volunteered to hold flashlights so I could see better, and they also volunteered to move so the patient could lie down.”

After starting the IV, it was hung from an overhead luggage compartment to facilitate the delivery of the IV fluids. Dr. Tyler then gave him oxygen and a “GI cocktail” – a mixture of liquid antacid and viscous lidocaine. Within 30 minutes, the patient’s pain level decreased from 10 out of 10, to five out of 10.

Dr. Tyler and the nurse sat with the patient the remainder of the flight. During those four hours, they monitored his vitals and IV, continued oxygen treatment, and kept a detailed log of the time of assessments, the time medication administered, and his response to the medication.

As soon as they landed, EMS personnel entered the plane to evaluate the patient. Dr. Tyler was able to provide EMS with a complete care log for the man. His pain level was now zero out of 10, and he was able to walk off the plane without assistance and discomfort.

Once the patient’s care was transferred to EMS, Dr. Tyler and his family were headed to their connecting flight when the patient’s wife ran up to him with extended arms.

“I didn’t know if my husband was going to make it, but I knew he was in good hands” she told Dr. Tyler. “You are a blessing, and the Lord is watching over you!”

Called to Serve

Dr. Tyler humbly recalls this experience. “I was just doing what I was called to do – to serve someone in need. It was a very rewarding experience, and I was just happy to be in a position to help.”

And that is exactly how all of the physicians, staff, and volunteers feel at OSF St. Joseph Medical Center – they were called to serve those in need with love and compassion, on and off the clock.

Many of our patients say they can actually feel the difference in the quality of care and compassion the OSF St. Joseph staff delivers.

To experience the difference at OSF St. Joseph Medical Center, visit www.osfstjoseph.org for a full list of services we offer and for more patient stories.

Dr. Lamont Tyler, DO is the Regional Director of Specialty Services for OSF St. Joseph Medical Center in Bloomington and OSF Saint James – John W. Albrecht Medical Center in Pontiac. He is board-certified in urgent care and family medicine.