‘Is There a Doctor Onboard?’ — Mayo Physician-In-Training Responds to Frightening In-Flight Medical Emergency

Early last month, Infectious Diseases Fellow Aditya Shah, M.D., was on a return flight to Minneapolis when his medical training at Mayo Clinic was called into action.
Jim Rogers' in-flight medical team.

Early last month, Aditya Shah, M.D., a fellow in infectious diseases, was on a return flight to Minneapolis when his medical training at Mayo Clinic was called into action.

Margaret Shields and her husband, Jim Rogers, were on their way home to Wausau, Wisconsin, from London when their flight plan took a frightening turn. An hour into the flight, Jim began experiencing severe pain in his right eye. The pain quickly intensified to the point where Jim didn't know if he or his eye would survive the six-hour flight to Minneapolis. "When he asked me to tell Gracie, our basset hound, that he would miss her, I knew we needed help," Margaret says. "I went up to the nearest flight attendant and said we needed immediate medical attention."

Help came in the form of Aditya Shah, M.D. "When I heard the [overhead] announcement, I immediately went up to the front of the plane to see what was going on," Dr. Shah, an infectious diseases fellow at Mayo Clinic School of Graduate Medical Education, tells us. What he found was Jim suffering from intense and increasing pain in his right eye. "He was wearing an eyepatch over the eye, and as soon as I took that off to see what was going on, blood started spurting out," Dr. Shah says.

At that point, two other passengers had also come to Jim's aid: Anne Hanson, a retired University of Minnesota nurse, and Blake Tyra, an EMT. "They helped me check Jim's blood pressure, which was extremely high," Dr. Shah says. After examining Jim more closely, Dr. Shah believed he knew what was going on. "He appeared to have a tear in his right cornea, and he was bleeding profusely from that," he tells us.

Jim Rogers and Gracie.

After working to lower Jim's blood pressure with the help of blood pressure medication from another passenger, Dr. Shah, Blake and Anne worked with Delta Airlines' on-ground medical support staff to come up with an emergency treatment plan. "I spoke with their doctor on the ground and gave him a very detailed rundown of Jim's symptoms and condition," Dr. Shah says. "We then spoke with the pilot, and he agreed to make an emergency landing in Shannon, Ireland."

While they waited for the plane to land, Dr. Shah went to work on fashioning a new eyepatch and icepack for Jim using gauze and a Ziploc bag. "The flight crew had given us sleeping masks with an elastic strap on the back so I used one of those to secure the icepack and bandage over Jim's eye in hopes it would stop the bleeding," Dr. Shah says. "Thankfully, after a while, it did."

Margaret tells us she'll never forget what Dr. Shah did next. "During landing, Dr. Shah sat next to Jim and held his hand," she says. "That sight brought both the flight crew and myself to tears."

In Ireland, an ambulance rushed Jim and Margaret to the nearest hospital where Jim underwent a temporary surgical repair to his eye. And after being told a permanent fix was beyond the capabilities of Jim's local care team in Wisconsin, Margaret knew just where to go. "I knew Mayo Clinic was the best in the world," she tells us. "We decided to come to Mayo because Dr. Shah works for Mayo, and I wanted that kind of care for my husband going forward."

And even though he's not a direct member of Jim's care team, Dr. Shah has stayed very much connected to Jim's ongoing treatment at Mayo under the care of Sanjay Patel, M.D., chair of Mayo Clinic's Division of Surgical Ophthalmology. "They were in the hospital here for about 10 days after all of this, and I visited them every day just to say hi and see how he was doing," Dr. Shah tells us.

For that, among other things, Margaret tells us she'll be forever grateful. "Words cannot express our gratitude," she says. "We are forever thankful to Dr. Shah, Anne and Blake. Without them, I'm not sure if my husband, or his eye, would have survived."

Give us something to be forever grateful for by sharing your comments below. Then, use the handy social media tools atop to this page to share this story with others.