Heroes at 35,000 feet: Trio of medical professionals save fellow passenger on flight

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Three medical professionals, a doctor, a nurse and an EMT, likely saved the life of a passenger on a Delta flight from London to Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Travelers on a recent flight from London Heathrow to Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport got quite the fright as a passenger experienced high blood pressure and bleeding from one of his eyes that required immediate, emergency trauma care.

Luckily, that's exactly what the man found at 35,000 feet somewhere over the Atlantic. 

Dr. Adi Shah, normally an infectious disease specialist based at the Mayo Clinic, was on board Delta Flight 11 last month when a medical emergency was declared in first class. He rushed into action, along with two others with extensive medical training—a veteran nurse with 40 years of experience and a Hennepin County EMT. The fact all three were there, in itself, seemed like a miracle.

"What are the odds that a Mayo doctor, an EMT and a longtime nurse are on the same plane at the time of a medical emergency?" said Blake Tyra, the EMT. "Not very likely.”

The man, 76-year-old Jim Rogers, was spurting blood out of his right eye and complaining of severe pain, with a blood pressure that was quickly spiking to critical levels--200 over 120, to be exact.

Rogers was flying home to Wausau, Wis., with his wife, Margaret Shields, and would eventually need multiple procedures and a surgery for what was later diagnosed as a "corneal melt."

"I thought it was an emergency," Shah said. "That high a blood pressure with bleeding from the eye can result in situations we don’t want to talk about on the flight.”

So Dr. Shah, Tyra and retired nurse Anne Hanson of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, went to work, gathering medical supplies from the plane's first aid kit and monitoring Rogers' vital signs. Another person on the flight even had blood pressure medication they were able to administer.

The trio worked so well together, in fact, that it almost seemed meant to be.

"The team was almost set up to help him on that particular occasion," Dr. Shah said. "It almost seemed like this was meant to be for him."

Rogers still can't see out of his eye, and wasn't ready to talk with media given the trauma he and his wife suffered. He did, however, want to thank the three other passengers who very likely saved his life.

“Who knows what passenger is sitting next to you or behind you?" Hanson said. "I have said many prayers thanking the Lord that all three of us were there at that time.”