The plane had reached cruising altitude and the flight attendants were serving drinks when suddenly, the routine trip from Minneapolis to Phoenix took a dramatic turn. A passenger had gone into cardiac arrest and become unresponsive. The woman's companion and flight attendants began calling for help.
Fortunately, help was close at hand. Very close. Not one, but two doctors were sitting directly behind the ailing passenger. When they heard the commotion, Chetna Mangat, M.D., and her husband, Gagandeep Singh, M.D., quickly put their medical skills to work.
"My husband jumped up and found that the woman had no pulse," Dr. Mangat, a pediatrician at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire, tells the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. "Without wasting any time, he pulled her onto the floor in the aisle and we started active CPR."
Dr. Mangat performed chest compressions while her husband, a family practice doctor who also cares for patients in the emergency department, began mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Two other passengers with medical backgrounds came to help. They checked the woman's heart rhythm and determined she would not need to be shocked. After "four or five minutes" of CPR, the woman's heart began beating again and she resumed consciousness.
"It was a great feeling," Dr. Singh says of the experience. "I can say, 'Well, we did something good.'" And something rare. According to the American Heart Association, only about 10 percent of people who have an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest survive. The odds are even worse, we suspect, for those whose cardiac arrest occurs 30,000 feet above the ground.
The plane made an emergency landing in Lincoln, Nebraska, where an ambulance was waiting for the patient. Dr. Mangat and Dr. Singh eventually made it to Arizona, where they were attending a medical conference. When they arrived, they had "quite a story" to tell their boss, Richard Helmers, M.D., regional vice president, Mayo Clinic Health System, Northwest Wisconsin.
"Getting the call, 'Is there a doctor on the plane?' is very stressful," says Dr. Helmers. "You're suddenly asked to provide medical care to someone you don't know in front of 200 people without any equipment." He says the couple's response to the call was "admirable" and "undoubtedly, saved this woman's life."
The patient and many other passengers on the flight thanked Dr. Mangat and Dr. Singh for those lifesaving efforts. The airline also emailed its thanks. Dr. Mangat says the thanks, while appreciated, is unnecessary. She insists that she and her husband were just doing their jobs that day. "I just feel like I performed my duty," Dr. Mangat tells the Leader-Telegram. "We were happy that the outcome was good."
While they never learned the patient's name, Dr. Mangat and Dr. Singh are grateful to have played a role in her survival. "It was a good feeling," Dr. Mangat says, "to know that somebody needed help and you could do that."
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