Emergency On Board: Woman Sits Next to Her Deceased Boyfriend for Nine Hours
Last week we wrote about the dangers of travelling with a sick or injured patient and no professional medical care. Shortly after we posted that blog, Can’t I Just Take My Sick/Injured Loved One on a Plane Myself? a friend sent me a link to a news article about a man who passed away on a flight from Singapore to New Zealand. For now, the story is that the man choked on a piece of beef, though his father said that he had a heart condition – which could well have contributed to or even caused his death.
There’s not really a “moral” to the story here – except for a congenital heart defect that the man, Robert Rippingale, had corrected in surgery at age 6 – it appears as if he was a healthy young man. While we always recommend that travelers with medical problems at least consider a commercial air medical escort or air ambulance, there’s no reason why otherwise healthy people would fly with professional medical support.
The story reminds me of how important it is that we all know how to properly perform the Heimlich maneuver. As a commenter on one article about the incident asked, “What happened to the Heimlich maneuver? Doesn't everyone know how to do this?” I thought so; I learned it in middle school – long before I was interested in becoming a paramedic.
According to news reports “A doctor and two nurses who were on-board the flight rushed to Rippingale's aid and performed CPR but couldn't save him.” We don’t know exactly what interventions the doctor and nurses performed on the man, or how long he had been choking before they got to him.
While medical professionals did respond (they don’t always in these circumstances) I haven’t heard yet what kind of doctor or nurses they were. A podiatrist is a doctor but has a very different skill set than a trauma surgeon, for example. Ditto for the nurses. That is not at all intended to disparage their service – again, a lot of medical professionals stay in their seats when calls for help are issued – it’s simply to say that they may not have the specialty medical training required for optimal response in an emergency situation.
Some airlines have their employees participate in MedAire’s medical training and equipment program. I’m not sure if this airline, Jetstar, does or not. MedAire provides medical training and support services to commercial airlines. If flight crew were trained by MedAire they would likely learn the basics of treating an airway obstruction: Heimlich maneuver, attempt to ventilate, attempt to suction or visualize (laryngoscope and suction or Magill's forceps). If that fails, and there happens to be an emergency physician or critical care paramedic or nurse on board, they might try a cricothyrotomy (putting a hole in the trachea just below the larynx with a scalpel or knife) – a procedure one local Arizona physician once performed on a plane.
While I think this should serve as a reminder to refresh our CPR certifications (which include the Heimlich maneuver), at the end of the day this was probably one of those circumstances that unfortunately happen and can’t really be avoided. Our hearts go out to the young man’s girlfriend, who was with him on the flight, and to his family.