A doctor fought to save a man’s life for five hours while at 40,000 feet in the air after a passenger suffered a cardiac arrest on a flight to India.
Dr Vishwaraj Vemala, a Birmingham-based consultant hepatologist, was on a 10-hour flight when the 43-year-old man collapsed in the aisle.
The passenger in cardiac arrest, who had no previous medical history, had no pulse and was not breathing when Mr Vemala rushed to resuscitate him.
CPR took about an hour before the passenger regained consciousness. At that time, Mr. Vemala asked the cabin crew on board if they had any medication.
“Fortunately, they had an emergency kit which, to my utter surprise, contained resuscitation drugs to sustain life,” he said.
“Apart from oxygen and an automated external defibrillator, there was no other equipment on board to monitor how he was doing.”
Dr Vemala, who works at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, was also able to get a heart rate monitor, blood pressure monitor, pulse oximeter and glucometer to check the man’s vital signs.
The passenger, who was talking to Mr. Vemala after regaining consciousness, suddenly went into cardiac arrest again, but managed to keep him alive a second time.
Dr Vemala said: “All in all, he didn’t have a good pulse or decent blood pressure for almost two hours of the flight, we tried to keep him alive for a total of five hours with the cabin crew. It was very scary for all of us, especially the other passengers, and it was quite emotional.”
With growing concern for the passenger’s condition, Mr. Velma and the pilot tried to obtain permission to land at the nearest airport in Pakistan, but their requests were denied.
Instead, they managed to land at Mumbai Airport in India, where rescue teams were waiting for them on the ground.
“I remember it was extremely emotional for all of us when we heard that we could land in Mumbai. By the time we landed, the passenger was resuscitated and able to talk to me. Nevertheless, I insisted that he go to the hospital for tests,” said Velma.
He added: “As a consultant hepatologist, I look after exceptionally ill patients and liver transplant patients, but I don’t think I’ve ever treated cardiac arrest during my work. Of course, during my medical training, it was something I dealt with, but never at 40,000 feet in the air.
Mr Velma was traveling on flight AI128 from the UK to India to take his mum back to their hometown of Bangalore before cabin crew desperately called for a doctor to attend to a passenger who had collapsed in the aisle.
It was a chance for Dr. Velma’s mother to see him “in action”, he said, which made the incident “even more emotional – she cried a lot”.
The passenger was left safe and stable by the Mumbai airport rescue team.
Mr. Velma said: “The patient thanked me with tears in his eyes. He said, “I will be forever grateful to you for saving my life.” It was indeed a moment that I will remember for the rest of my life.”