(KTXL) — Above the Pacific Ocean at 30,000 feet: That was the right place for a vascular surgeon, anesthesiologist, paramedic and nurse to be on a January day.
While on the Hawaii flight, 69-year-old Auburn resident Karen Allen had a medical emergency and they immediately stepped forward to help save her life.
“I was headed to the Big Island to meet a girlfriend over there. We were going to spend a week there, but she got my room and I got the hospital,” Allen recalled.
Allen’s trip took an unexpected turn for the worst halfway through the flight when she began to feel nauseous.
“I felt tight, like this, thought, ‘Oh, I need to go for a walk.’ So, I went to the restroom, and it was full. I just sat on an armrest, and then I was out and on the floor,” Allen said.
Five rows away, Kaiser Permanente vascular surgeon Dr. Aaron Baker was sitting with his wife, who is a nurse, and their five children.
“She was the one that tapped me out of my stupor while watching a movie with my son, to say, ‘Hey something’s going on five chairs in front of us. You need to go right now.’ She was on the floor — completely lifeless. And that’s when a flight attendant and I pulled her to, essentially, a flat position inside the aisle and made a quick assessment and started CPR,” Baker said.
Captain Dan Nelson with the El Dorado Hills Fire Department was sitting about 20 rows further when heard a Hawaiian airlines flight attendant ask over the speaker if any doctors or nurses could make themselves known.
“And I turned around and the flight attendant was running up the aisle and normally when they have a problem they’re very low-key. But I could tell by the way she was that there was something urgent going on. And I raised my hand and said, ‘I’m a paramedic, can I help,’” Nelson said.
An emergency room nurse from South Lake Tahoe did the same.
Closer to where Allen was initially seated, there was also a Roseville anesthesiologist, Dr. Brandon Winchester, with his wife. He immediately sprang into action with the others.
“They put their whole heart into helping someone they did not know,” Allen said.
Baker said Allen had an ST elevation myocardial infarction and a blockage in an artery known as the Widowmaker: That nickname — Baker said — comes from its low chance of survival.
“Someone even at the hospital undergoing CPR has sometimes under a 5% chance of surviving in that event, so the fact that we were doing CPR for someone at 30,000 feet two hours from the nearest hospital is pretty remarkable,” Baker said.
It was a remarkable moment that reminded the four health professionals why they got into the medical field in the first place.
“It was all the right people, the right time, and clearly, it was not her time because all the stars were aligned to have these people there to get her to the hospital,” Baker said.
“It’s the closest thing I’ve experienced to a miracle in my 20-year medical career,” Winchester said.
Allen said she cannot thank her heroes enough, and she actually hopes to head back to Hawaii in April.