A team of five Tulane Neonatal Intensive Care Unit nurses found themselves in the middle of a medical drama in the air recently when a passenger fell ill onboard a flight returning to New Orleans from a conference in Chicago.

The group of nurses, who all work at Tulane Lakeside Hospital for Women and Children, were returning from the Vermont Oxford Network Neonatal Intensive Care Unit conference when they boarded the flight to New Orleans.

Everything seemed routine until about 20 minutes after take-off, said Crystal Maise-Dykes, Tulane’s NICU supervisor.  “Suddenly, the flight attendant asked if there were any nurses or physicians on board, at which point our entire Tulane team pressed their call lights without hesitation or discussion.” Even though there were other medical providers who responded, the flight crew deferred to the Tulane team, she said.

The flight attendant led them to a passenger complaining of chest pain and shortness of breath. The Tulane team worked quickly to complete a physical assessment and determined the male passenger had suffered a heart attack. They started an IV, gave a fluid bolus and continuous IV fluid rate and asked the flight crew for a medical emergency bag. Next, they administered oxygen to the patient via a drop-down mask and administered aspirin provided by fellow passengers.

“Most importantly, Carsten Pennier held the patient’s hand and reassured him that we would stay with him, and that our priority was to keep him safe until he was handed over to EMS on the ground,” Maise-Dykes said.

Tulane team members who responded to the flight crew’s announcement included Carsten Pennier, Nancy Minyard, Sarah Labuda, Lori Ann Wild and Maise-Dykes. 

The flight was re-routed back to Chicago for an emergency landing, where the passenger was met at the gate by paramedics. Although Maise-Dykes never received an update on the patient’s status, she knows her team made a difference.

“I believe his safety was only possible because of our selfless and dedicated team, who are living out Tulane’s mission to provide world-class patient care – no matter where they are,” she said.