AIIMS doctors save 2-yr-old girl’s life after her heart stops on flight

By, New Delhi
Aug 29, 2023 12:05 AM IST

Five doctors from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) came to the rescue of a two-year-old girl who stopped breathing on a Vistara flight from Bengaluru to Delhi. The doctors improvised medical equipment from whatever they could find on the plane and managed to revive the child and stabilise her until the flight made an emergency landing in Nagpur. The girl had recently undergone heart surgery and had experienced post-surgery complications. The doctors continued to assist the child until she could be handed over to a paediatrician from a nearby hospital.

What are the chances of a doctor with just the skills required to handle a mid-air medical emergency happening to be on a flight?

The five doctors who saved the 2-year-old on the flight. (PTI)
The five doctors who saved the 2-year-old on the flight. (PTI)

What are the chances of five?

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Half an hour into Vistara’s late evening flight from Bengaluru to Delhi on Sunday night, the crew made an emergency announcement checking if there was a doctor on board.

There were five, and when Dr Navdeep Kaur (anaesthesiology), Dr Damandeep Singh, (cardiac radiology), Dr Rishab Jain (radiology), Dr Oishika (obstetrics and gynecology), Dr Avichala Taxak (cardiac radiology) — all senior resident doctors at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) — responded, they were taken to a two-year-old girl who had stopped breathing. Over the next 45 minutes, the doctors worked as a team, improvising medical equipment from whatever they could lay their hands on, and first revived, then saw her through two cardiac arrests, and finally ensured she kept breathing till the flight could make an emergency landing in Nagpur.

“The child had a pre-existing heart condition so managing it on-air with limited resources was a major challenge. This was not a regular medical emergency,” said Dr Singh.

He added that the girl and her parents were returning from Bengaluru after her heart surgery for a congenital cardiac condition. The surgery was successfully conducted 21 days ago, but such post-surgery complications are not uncommon, Singh said.

The doctors said that in such conditions, if a patient does not get immediate medical attention, it can cause permanent damage to the brain, perhaps death.

“We decided to make-do with the limited resources; and we ensured that the child was stabilized till the flight made an emergency landing,” Singh said.

Dr Kaur said that the challenge was to use limited resources on board to create equipment and apparatus that help the child. They worked with kitchen knives, oxygen tubes and masks, which drops down during an emergency situation, and food trays to do so.

“Interestingly, the airline had most of the emergency medicines that we needed to revive the child. But we did have to apply our minds to make the most of the available resources. The oxygen masks on flights are not designed to provide oxygen to a person who is not breathing, so we had to cut a mask and make one which could be used. Similarly, during landing, we were holding the baby on our lap over a food tray so that her CPR could continue.”

The team of doctors, none of whom had experienced such an emergency before, said that the primary aim throughout the 45 minutes was to ensure that the child continued breathing. After a few minutes, her condition stabilised, and her body regained colour. During the course of the flight, however, she went into a cardiac arrest twice and had to be revived.

Vistara refused to comment on the incident citing patient confidentiality.

Even when the flight landed around 11.30pm at Nagpur, the doctors continued to assist the child, monitoring her vitals in an ambulance, till she could be handed over to a paediatrician from a nearby hospital.

“We have been following up on her condition all morning and currently she is stable, but on ventilator. Hopefully, she will get better,” Dr Singh said.

When she does, she has five angels to thank. They might not have wings, but fortunately for her, they just happened to be flying that night.

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    Soumya Pillai covers environment and traffic in Delhi. A journalist for three years, she has grown up in and with Delhi, which is often reflected in the stories she does about life in the city. She also enjoys writing on social innovations.

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