Joan Wilder: Journalist, Writer, Editor

Nurses fly into action mid-flight

As Lori Broadbent, RN, CEN, and Patty Sheehan, BSN, RN, settled into their seats on the Oct. 14, 9 a.m. Delta flight from New York’s JFK International Airport to Salt Lake City, they couldn’t help but overhear a flight attendant’s concern: one of the passengers wasn’t well, he was pale, and she was worried.

Out of a planeload of nurses – 80 percent of the passengers were on route to the American Nurses Credentialing Center’s National Magnet Conference — one of them piped up.

“Patty looked up at the stewardess and said ‘we’re nurses here, we’d be happy to take a look,’” said Broadbent, who examined the passenger with Sheehan and found him to be having a GI upset, not a heart attack as the stewardess had feared.

About 90 minutes later, though, as the two nurses from St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport, Conn., were really settling in, they suddenly became aware of another situation within seconds of each other: Another stewardess was calling for help with another man who had emerged from the first class bathroom, said he wasn’t well, and collapsed as she eased him down.

“I was sitting behind Patty and when I saw her jump up I just automatically jumped up,” said Broadbent.

Seconds later, she found herself kneeling on the floor next to the cockpit with Sheehan, a staff nurse who also works in nursing informatics, and a third nurse, Maria Giraldo, BSN, RN. Sprawled beneath them was a man who wasn’t breathing and had no pulse.

Broadbent and Sheehan, who work at the same hospital but never together, didn’t know Giraldo, nurse manager of the ICU and progressive care units at Long Island Jewish Medical Center. Yet, in a job where every second counted, the three seamlessly covered all the bases and saved the man’s life – miles above the earth.

“I just remember we all said he has no pulse and he isn’t breathing and then we just each went to work,” said Broadbent, who was an ER nurse for 19 years before becoming a risk management associate at St. Vincent’s.

As Broadbent yelled for an AED (automatic external defibrillator) and emergency kit, Giraldo gave the man mouth to mouth followed by about 15 compressions. With Sheehan monitoring his vital signs, Broadbent inserted an IV into the patient about the same time that the man started to come back to life.

“We probably had him back within 60 seconds – before the defibrillator arrived from the far end of the plane,” said Broadbent, who knew the equipment was on board because the stewardesses had brought it out to treat the first sick passenger.

It wasn’t until the plane made an emergency landing in St. Louis that what had happened hit the nurses.

“While it was happening we were strangely calm, all three of us talked about that afterward,” said Broadbent, who has since become closer to Sheehan and gotten to know Giraldo. “It’s different on the outside of a hospital, especially in a plane. We were up there.”

Nina Fausty, assistant vice president of patient care services at St. Vincent’s, who was traveling with Broadbent and Sheehan, said the nurses responded to the emergency without even verbally communicating.

“They knew what to do — and that they did it is amazing — but it’s really what nurses are trained to do,” said Fausty. “I’m proud of them.”

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