London: A British-Indian doctor battled for five hours to save a fellow passenger, who almost died twice during a 10-hour Air India flight.
Vishwaraj Vemala, a consultant hepatologist at University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, was flying from the UK to Bengaluru with his mother when a 43-year-old man suffered a cardiac arrest.
Vemala attempted to resuscitate the passenger, who at the time did not have a pulse and was not breathing.
“It took about an hour of resuscitation before I was able to get him back. Luckily, they (the cabin crew) had an emergency kit, which included resuscitative medication to enable life support,” Vemala said while sharing his experience.
Apart from oxygen and an automated external defibrillator, Vemala, with the help of other passengers, managed to get hold of a heart-rate monitor, blood pressure machine, pulse oximeter and glucose meter to keep an eye on the patient’s vital signs.
The passenger then went into cardiac arrest for a second time, and this time it took longer to resuscitate him.
“In total, he was without a good pulse or decent blood pressure for nearly two hours of the flight, alongside the cabin crew, we were trying to keep him alive for five hours in total,” Vemala said in a statement released by University Hospitals Birmingham.
Concerned for the passenger’s chance for survival, Vemala and the pilot tried to get permission to land at the nearest airfield in Pakistan, but their request was denied.
Instead, they were able to arrange for landing at the Mumbai airport, where an emergency crew was waiting for them on the ground.
By the time the flight landed, the passenger was resuscitated and was able to speak.
“I don’t think I have ever treated a cardiac arrest during my job… Obviously during my medical training, it was something I had experience dealing with, but never 40,000 feet in the air!” Vemala said.
He said that it was the first time in his seven years as a consultant that his mother saw him ‘in action’. “She was crying a lot.”
Vemala was able to leave the patient safe and stable with the emergency team at Mumbai Airport, with very detailed notes and observations he’d shown cabin crew how to take.
“This was indeed a moment that I will remember for rest of my life,” he said.
Vemala graduated from Bangalore University in 1999, and completed post-graduate training in Bangalore in 2002.
He completed basic specialist training in London (2006) at St George’s University Hospital. Later, he undertook a period of research in the Dame Sheila Sherlock Liver Unit at the Royal Free, London (2009).