Docs on a Plane!: Cartersville physicians provide emergency care to fellow airplane passengers

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For a pair of Cartersville Medical Center physicians, providing emergency treatment to fellow airplane passengers was an unexpected yet memorable experience.

In separate instances, Dr. Carlo Oller — medical director for CMC’s ER — responded to an unresponsive woman while his plane was on the runway in early January, and Dr. Ankit Patel — interventional cardiologist with Harbin Clinic Cardiology in Cartersville — assisted a semiconscious woman on a flight from Chicago to Abu Dhabi Feb. 15.“We were about and an hour and a half away from Abu Dhabi, and I noticed a flight attendant come by with an oxygen tank,” Patel said. “It turns out there was a woman on the flight three seats in front of me, who was having chest pains. I went over to help and realized she was semiconscious, sweaty and clammy and her pulse was weak. I immediately got her to try to chew up four baby aspirin.“She was 43 years old and had a 16-month-old baby with her. I noticed that she had barely moved out of her seat during the flight, and it was a 14-hour flight. I was worried that she might have a blood clot, because she was recently pregnant and she hadn’t gotten up from her seat and walked around during the flight.”Due to the patient’s current condition, Patel inquired about the possibility of landing the plane as soon as possible.“The pilots told us they could do a quick landing in Qatar,” Patel said. “They questioned if we really needed to land early, and I told them we had to do it. When the plane started descending, she regained consciousness and her pulse got better. Once we landed, the EMS came and they took her to a local hospital.“She was awake and alive. It was very rewarding knowing that she was alive. I’ve never had this happen when I was flying before. It’s something I’m proud of. I’m proud to be a doctor and that I was able to help save someone’s life, especially because it was a mother with a young child.”Oller also provided emergency care to a fellow passenger, who in the end started responding to treatment. Originally seated in the back of the plane, Oller came to the woman’s aid after the second request for medical personnel was broadcast.“She was just agonal breathing, very slow, very shallow,” Oller said. “She was purple, cyanotic. She was drooling out of [her] mouth and she was unresponsive. I tried to open her eyes, call her attention, and she wasn’t responding. So I did ... [a] maneuver to open her airway to allow some air passage.“I looked at the flight attendant and said, ‘This is the real deal. I need you to turn the plane around and call for paramedics.’ So they [started] doing that.”After Oller received assistance from a flight attendant and former ICU nurse, the impromptu team provided an array of care, some of which included airway control, administering an Automated External Defibrillator and CPR.“At that point [when paramedics arrived] she seemed to be waking up,” Oller said. “She was definitely grimacing, kind of retracting and moving around. ... She actually had a heartbeat and a blood pressure and at that point they took over. I gave them a little report. ... They left with her, and I went back to the plane. There was no feedback [afterward].”Along with informing paramedics about the patient’s condition, Oller also spoke with her daughter over the phone in Spanish.““This is exactly the kind of stuff I do every day at work, but to do it [in] a place where you don’t have your instruments, where you’re very limited in the resources and what you can do, you feel pretty hopeless,” Oller said. “... When I grew up wanting to be an emergency doctor or during my residency, this was the kind of stuff you would dream of being able to do one day. It was pretty cool to have been there [on] that flight, given the emergency, being able to respond and ultimately the outcome. Because five minutes later, if she would have ... [needed assistance] while we were in the air, the outcome would have been different.”