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Airman gives aid at 37,000 feet

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Christopher Marasky
  • 18th Wing Public Affairs
Today's Air Force prepares Airmen to be ready for any contingency, and often emergency situations arise at the most unexpected times.

For Capt. Sam Millar, chief of the 18th Operations Group Aeromedical Evacuation Branch, that situation arose about eight hours into a flight from Narita, Japan to Toronto, Canada 29 Aug. and he was ready.

Flight attendants made an announcement requesting any available medical personnel to come forward and help with a medical emergency they were having on board the aircraft.

"I heard the announcement and wondered if someone was having a seizure or heart attack," said Captain Millar. "I didn't know what to expect, but prepared for the worst case scenario and began running through cardiac life support procedures in my head."

Captain Millar and a retired general practitioner both identified themselves and made their way to the first class cabin, where they found a 27-year old male. The man was four days out of surgery, and had fallen behind in his pain medication which was causing him intense pain, nausea and dehydration due to vomiting. The dry air in the aircraft cabin wasn't helping matters either.

"With fluid loss, inactivity due to the length of the flight, and his present condition, he was also at risk for blood clots forming in his legs," said Captain Millar. "The physician who responded with me was concerned about these clots traveling to his lungs which would have put us in a very different, and much more serious emergency situation as he would have gone into respiratory arrest."

Fortunately for the man, Captain Millar's Air Force training left him well-prepared to start an intravenous mixture of saline and morphine. The saline was able to rehydrate the man and help return his heart rate to normal, with the morphine helping to relieve the pain.

With the patient stabilized, the aircraft was able to continue on to Toronto, where emergency medical technicians boarded the aircraft to take over care of the sick man. It was then that Captain Millar learned from the man's wife that he was a Canadian water polo Olympian, on his return trip from competing in the Beijing Olympic Games.

Captain Millar credits his ability to help the man to his Air Force training as a flight nurse, which allowed him to keep a cool head throughout the situation.

"I feel my experience as a flight nurse was invaluable," said Captain Millar. "I was able to direct and coordinate a team comprised of two flight attendants and a physician, while maintaining a calm environment in order to get this passenger the care he needed with the in-flight medical equipment available."

Captain Millar's ability to cope with the situation in such unexpected circumstances is a reflection on him, as well as all members of the 18th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, said the squadron commander Col. John Ewing.

"It's absolutely in line with what our teams do on a daily basis," he said. "They are able to take a look at a patient, do their assessment, figure out the impact that the flight environment has on them and assess what needs to be done from there." 

As for Captain Millar, he's happy that he was able to offer assistance when he was called upon. 

"I'm just glad I was aboard the flight and able render care," he said. "You never know what is going to happen when and where. In this case, it was at 37,000 feet and I was able to fall back on my in-flight training."