MVH Hospitalist Helps Save a Life While Travelling

Sometimes being in the right place at the right time can be the difference between life and death. During a recent flight from France to Ohio, Maher AlSamkari, DO, a hospitalist at Miami Valley Hospital, helped save a fellow passenger’s life.

During the latter half of the flight, the flight crew called for help from anyone on board the plane with medical experience. Dr. AlSamkari answered the call, along with another physician. The crew explained that an elderly passenger travelling with his wife had developed respiratory distress. Adding to the difficulty of the situation, the man and his wife did not speak English, so communication was challenging. It soon became apparent, however, that the man had developed chest pain and severe shortness of breath. He was pale, sweating, and hyperventilating. His pulse was rapid and his lips had begun to turn blue. The flight attendants retrieved a portable oxygen tank from the plane’s supply, and air flow was immediately administered through an emergency mask.

Through the process of elimination and a look at the medication the man had brought with him, Dr. AlSamkari determined that the passenger had a history of asthma, or COPD, but he did not have a rescue inhaler. Dr. AlSamkari had a flight attendant issue a call for an inhaler from the passengers, while he further assessed the situation. The crew provided the plane’s primary first-aid kit, and using the tools that were on hand (a blood pressure cuff and rudimentary stethoscope), Dr. AlSamkari noted an absence of air flow in the man’s lower right lung, as well as gradually dwindling blood pressure. An albuterol inhaler was located in the plane’s secondary first-aid kit, and, together with the other physician on board, Dr. AlSamkari created a spacer using a cardboard tube, and then instructed the man to take puffs from the inhaler. Four aspirin were also found, and Dr. AlSamkari was able to get the man to chew and swallow them.

The flight crew attempted to reach a hospital in Pennsylvania for an emergency consult, but was unable to establish a reliable two-way radio connection. After assessing the remaining available oxygen supply, Dr. AlSamkari felt that it was uncertain whether the oxygen would be enough to last until the flight’s final destination. Plus, while the man’s symptoms had improved somewhat with the measures that were taken, his vital signs and overall condition remained tenuous – his blood pressure was low, and his pulse and respiratory rate, while better, had remained rapid.

After a discussion with the crew and the other physician, Dr. AlSamkari made the call to divert to the nearest airport, which was only 40 minutes away. Dr. AlSamkari remained with the man and continued to treat him until the plane landed, then handed off the man’s care to the paramedics, who transported the man to the nearest hospital.

Dr. Maher AlSamkari offered a short and humble statement about the events of that flight: “The only kind of comment I can offer, beyond my recollection of what happened, is simply this: I’m glad I was able to help.” His brother, Rannie AlSamkari, MD, a hand surgeon, was not surprised at all when he found out about what had happened. “Maher has always had a big heart,” Dr. Rannie AlSamkari said. “His talents with medicine and computers are obvious, but he’s more than that. There is never any hesitation to help anyone. The City of Dayton is very lucky to have such a great doctor, and an even better human being, practicing medicine here.”

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