Hamilton doctor treats passenger having medical emergency on plane

Dr. Linda Reilman (far right) with her daughters, Rachel Fladung (left) and Cheryl Fladung (center), on vacation in Hawaii during Mother’s Day week of 2018. While returning home on an overnight flight, Dr. Reilman’s skills were needed during an in-flight emergency. CONTRIBUTED
Caption
Dr. Linda Reilman (far right) with her daughters, Rachel Fladung (left) and Cheryl Fladung (center), on vacation in Hawaii during Mother’s Day week of 2018. While returning home on an overnight flight, Dr. Reilman’s skills were needed during an in-flight emergency. CONTRIBUTED

Air travel has become so commonplace that, regardless of age or condition, most people fly without thinking about it. Emergency calls while planes are in the air pose a challenge for physicians who are traveling as passengers, because they suddenly find themselves caring for strangers whose history they don’t know, often with issues outside of their specialty, in a setting with limited equipment.

Linda Reilman, a Kettering Health Network physician who is chief of staff at Fort Hamilton Hospital and has been a physician for 29 years, was returning from a Mother’s Day vacation in May with her two adult daughters, when her professional skills were called upon during an emergency on an overnight flight.

“We were leaving Hawaii scheduled to fly to Dallas, arriving at about 6 a.m.,” Reilman said. “About two hours into the flight, everyone was sleeping, all the lights came on and they made an announcement asking if anyone had medical training.”

Explore MORE: Passport mistake denies Butler County newlyweds their honeymoon

Reilman said her daughters, Rachel and Cheryl Fladung, woke her and told her they were asking for a doctor to come to the back of the plane. When she got to the scene, just a few rows behind her, a nurse and emergency medical technician had already arrived.

“The patient was ashen gray and unconscious,” Reilman said. “He was in his seat and I said we needed to pull him out so the EMT grabbed his feet and we carried him through the aisle and found room to lay him down. He didn’t have a blood pressure that we could measure.”

Reilman took charge of the medical team while the fight attendants helped to comfort the man’s wife while also communicating regularly with the pilot.

“We were over water and two hours from land,” Reilman said. “So, we needed to let the pilot know whether we should land as soon as possible or go on.”

Explore MORE: Army recruiter rescues residents from burning apartment building

Reilman had to use her medical skills to assess the patient, start an IV and give him fluids, talk to his spouse about his history and any medications he was taking and determine what potential issues he might be experiencing. She quickly ascertained that he was 72 years old and had a heart history but had not been having any symptoms prior to passing out in his seat.

“Fortunately for us, he woke up and we were able to stabilize him,” Reilman said. “He had a normal heart rhythm, so it really seemed like he was more dehydrated and just very stressed from rushing around during the day getting prepared for travel.”

The outcome was positive, and 300 passengers ended up landing in Dallas on schedule. But Reilman said there is a lesson here for everyone who travels.

“It was bit hairy for about an hour, so I think it’s important for everyone to remember, especially for those people taking longer flights and if you are elderly and have pre-existing conditions,” Reilman said. “It’s harder on those people and you have to move more. You should make sure you have eaten, and you are hydrated and because your legs are down for six to eight hours and the seat hits the back of your legs, you should move around and stretch.”

Explore BACK TO SCHOOL: What vaccines do students need?

In the end, the patient was fine, the airline made sure he had medical care after the plane landed and ensured he got home safely. Though this was the first time Reilman had experienced an inflight emergency, it was fortunately quite positive.

“It was kind of wonderful at the end,” Reilman said. “We landed and everyone was clapping and they took him off to evaluate him. I can’t say enough about the flight attendants and how great they were, and we ended up calling the man’s doctor in Florida and he was going to follow up with him that Monday. We tied up a lot of loose ends and everyone was great. It’s so nice to see trained medical professionals step up because that’s what we are supposed to do. Helping someone else is really all I did, and it felt great.”