Life Saving Actions In Flight

This blog often highlights things that go wrong – instances of negligence and irresponsibility at the end of which someone gets hurt and our legal system is called upon to offer justice, and some measure of solace, to victims and their families. An article that appeared in The Oregonian this week, however, is a reminder that the opposite of recklessness and negligence lies in proper training, having proper equipment and displaying professional responsibility.

The story that brought all this to mind concerns a Southeast Portland man whose life was saved on board an airplane last April when he suffered a heart attack while on a flight from Portland to Dallas. According to the newspaper the man’s wife became worried when she found him suddenly looking gray and acting unresponsive in the seat next to her. The woman’s “distress got the attention of those around her” the paper reports. Within moments a doctor and nurse, both from the Oregon Health and Science University Hospital but who were traveling separately, sprang to the man’s aid as flight attendants rushed to get the portable defibrillator that is now standard equipment on most commercial aircraft.

The doctor managed to revive the patient using hands-only CPR, the paper reports, with the patient showing signs of life just as the defibrillator was being activated. The doctor sent word to the pilots that the plane needed to land as soon as possible, leading to an emergency stop a short time later in Salt Lake City. As paramedics removed the man from the aircraft fellow passengers applauded.

What makes this story even more extraordinary is the self-effacing nature of the good Samaritans. Neither the doctor nor the nurse knew their patient’s name. After the incident was over the plane continued on to Texas where the doctor was attending a conference and the nurse was due to start a vacation accompanied by her mother.

In a heart-warming post-script to this story, however, both doctor and nurse were reunited with the man they saved, and the patient got an opportunity to thank them personally, at a ceremony this week where OHSU cited the doctor and nurse for their actions that day. The reunion was only possible because a colleague traveling with the doctor had overheard the patient’s wife mention that the man had received a heart transplant at OHSU 13 years earlier. That fact, along with an educated guess about the man’s age and ethnicity, was enough for the colleague to locate him via hospital records and to arrange this week’s reunion.

As a personal injury attorney practicing here in Portland I have written many times about the importance of accountability and the role our legal system plays in enforcing it. It is important to step back at moments like these, however, and remind ourselves of the ways our medical (and legal) system is supposed to work, and of the extraordinary, often selfless, good that people can do when they put their training and professional knowledge to its proper use.

The Oregonian: Cardiac arrest at 29,000 feet, yet Portland man was in the right hands