“Is there a doctor on board?”
If there’s one question that holds drama, intrigue, mystery – this would be it. As passengers, we can only imagine the worst-case scenarios when a medical emergency occurs mid-flight. Grey’s Anatomy taught us that. Also, that the solution to many medical maladies is to stick sharp thingamabobs into someone’s head or neck in order relieve who knows what.
On a recent Delta Airlines flight from New York City to Tel Aviv, Dr. Mikhail Varshavski, known as ‘Dr. Mike’ by his 3 million Instagram and YouTube followers, had to do exactly that.
Matt Faraco, 26, was on a Birthright trip to Israel and two hours into the flight, he was struggling to breathe.
“I was on the plane, I actually hadn’t eaten anything, but I noticed my hands were swelling. I told the stewardess I was feeling unwell. The team on the plane asked for any doctors on-board and Dr. Mike stepped forward,” Faraco recounted.
“I felt my throat start to close,” Faraco said. “I don’t normally have allergies and there was no EpiPen on the plane.
Dr. Mike, voted as “America’s Sexiest Doctor” by People magazine in 2015, is a board-certified family medicine physician based in New York City. He was headed to Israel to work with a non-profit when two hours into the Delta flight and over the Atlantic Ocean, he heard the call for a medical professional.
Sleep deprived, he volunteered to help.
“I’m not wearing shoes and I have a hoodie on, and I look like I haven’t slept in days,” Dr. Mike shares the story on his self-titled YouTube channel.
He asked the passenger, Faraco, of his situation and noticed that he was having an allergic reaction. What was Faraco having a reaction to if he didn’t have anything to eat? Turns out, Faraco was bitten by a tick which developed a delayed allergic reaction to the red meat he ate the night prior.
The first solution, Dr. Mike advised to the passenger, was to take the allergy medications he had on hand and if the swelling worsens, they’ll have to move to the next plan of action which was to administer an epinephrine dosage. Within the hour, the swelling did worsen.
“I right away started thinking worst-case scenarios,” explains Dr. Mike. “If the epinephrine (or Epi-pen) does not work, the next step would be to schedule a landing and if the swelling continues to get worse, I would be forced to make an incision in the young man’s throat.”
Dr. Mike admitted that this procedure, called cric, isn’t a procedure that is performed anymore: “That’s serious stuff! That’s what we see on Grey’s Anatomy or House episodes that we laugh and say no one ever does this.”
Moving quickly, Dr. Mike has Faraco relocated near the cockpit for privacy and proceeds to administer epinephrine from Delta’s medical supply kit.
Once he opens the kit, however, he was in disbelief. Although there was epinephrine, there weren’t any Epi-pens available.
It’s the same active ingredient, he explained in his video, but the dosages are different because Epi-pens are pre-filled for anaphylactic shock and the epinephrine injection kit found in Delta’s kit was for when someone’s heart flatlines.
After studying the package and the proper dose of ephinphrine was injected into the patient’s leg, Dr. Mike monitored Faraco every 30 minutes for four to five hours. Thankfully, no emergency diversion was required and Faraco’s vitals were stable.
“The passengers around me thanked me but they didn’t thank me for saving this young man’s life. I guess they didn’t know what was going on,” he laughed. “They thanked me for not diverting the plane and ruining their plans.”
We’re glad to know this story had a happy ending, however, Dr. Mike brings up a serious issue with airline medical kits: How is it possible that airlines don’t have Epi-pens onboard?
According to Dr. Mike, allergies and anaphylactic attacks are on the rise and flight attendants need to be trained on how to administer them, and potentially save a life if a doctor is not onboard or another passenger doesn’t have an Epi-pen to spare. We should be having Epi-pens available, so that the flight attendants could be trained on how to use them and they can hopefully save someone’s life.
As a call to action, he concluded: “My message to airlines: Do what you have to do to get an epinephrine pen (specifically, an auto-injector pen) on board and update it every year or 18 months.”
[Image: YouTube/ Doctor Mike]