UCLA Physicians Direct Airplane Rescue
From left to right: Jonathan Braun, MD, Lynn Gordon, MD, PhD, and Brandon Evans, MD
UCLA neurosurgery resident Brandon Evans, MD, was sitting at the back of the plane with his wife and two young daughters when the loudspeaker crackled with an entreaty that is commonplace in movies but rare in real life: Is there a doctor aboard?
Reading and listening to music, Dr. Evans didn't hear the announcement, until his wife, Leah, a nurse practitioner, nudged him to take off his headphones. Dr. Evans rushed to the front of the plane where a man lay in the aisle. He said he had risen from his seat and fainted.
Two other UCLA physicians - unknown to Dr. Evans at the time - happened to be sitting near the man when he collapsed and were now kneeling beside him: Lynn Gordon, MD, PhD, professor of ophthalmology and associate dean for academic diversity at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, and her husband, Jonathan Braun, MD, PhD, chair of pathology and laboratory medicine.
"The man was awake and calm and wasn't complaining of anything, so I thought that was the end of it," Dr. Evans says. "But right before we were done making sure he was okay, he lost consciousness and stopped breathing."
The three physicians went to work. Dr. Evans, who completed his seven-year neurosurgery residency in June and had the most current acute-care experience, worked to keep the man's airways open while the other two physicians and a third-year medical student from Texas Tech University performed CPR.
"It was great to have someone fresh in his acute-care medical training because it had been a long time for me," Dr. Braun says. "It was clear he was extremely well-trained and very professional. I was greatly impressed by his poise and effectiveness."
Crowded in the narrow aisle under the gaze of nearby passengers, the makeshift medical team used the airplane's automatic external defibrillator to check the man's heart, which was beating erratically, and to deliver an electric shock to re-establish a normal rhythm. The man's pulse returned temporarily and then his heart stopped.
On the advice of the physicians, the flight crew arranged to make an emergency landing in Lubbock, Texas, less than halfway to their Dallas destination. Before they arrived, Dr. Evans and the team had to shock the man's heart five times to revive him.
"At one point, I thought if we can't get this man off the plane fast enough, we may lose him," Dr. Evans says. "It is one of the most stressful things I've ever done in my entire medical career."
As soon as the plane landed, paramedics took the man to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with a total arterial occlusion and received a stent. In a recent e-mail, the man, who identified himself as Chip Collison, 66, said he is recovering from his heart attack and "doing great."