A quick-thinking foot doctor ended up saving the life of an airplane passenger after he followed his instincts and disobeyed an order from airline officials on the ground.
Dr. Michael Nirenberg had been on an American Airlines flight from Reno, Nevada to Chicago last week when a passenger in his mid-60s fell unconscious.
As a podiatrist—a doctor that specializes in the foot and ankle—Nirenberg was one of the only medically-trained passengers on board the flight.
Aided by a retired nurse, Nirenberg leapt into action and rushed to help the unresponsive patient. Upon appraising the passenger’s health, he and the nurse spent the next 40 minutes giving the man CPR and monitoring his vitals on a portable EKG while the plane changed course for an emergency landing in Denver.
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“After almost 30 years of taking courses to re-certify in CPR, this was the first time I needed to use it,” Nirenberg told Good News Network.
At one point, an American Airlines doctor who was communicating with the flight crew from the ground told Nirenberg not to apply an IV—but thankfully, the podiatrist opted to ignore the order.
“I and the nurse knew an IV needed to be put in and when the crew member said the doctor on the phone didn’t want an IV put in, we just looked at each other like ‘that makes no sense’ and I said to her, ‘he needs an IV’ and she agreed and we kept going,” he told GNN. “I knew if the man’s condition worsened, the EMTs would need an IV and we could have this ready for them. That time could mean the difference between life and death.
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“Also, the medications I saw he was on did not make me think he had a kidney failure issue and so fluids would probably be okay. And given that his blood pressure was very low, the fluids could bring it up. Once we did get fluids in, his blood pressure did come up.
“Frankly, the doctor on the phone was not there,” he added. “The man’s life was all on me. I had to go with my instincts.”
Shortly after they landed in Colorado, EMTs arrived to whisk the man away—and the entire plane applauded Nirenberg for his heroic actions.
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One of the passengers, Ann Riegle Crichton, told Good News Network that it was “an an amazing experience” for everyone involved.
“There was absolutely no complaining or whining from anyone on that plane, even during the emergency landing and delay. We all knew we were part of an amazing moment in time,” she wrote in an email. “And, after it was over and the passenger went on with the EMTs, the flight staff went right on with their jobs, serving drinks, helping with connections, etc. It was a memorable flight, for sure!”
According to the Facebook page of Nirenberg’s Friendly Foot Care clinic in Indiana, American Airlines later rewarded him with 25,000 free travel miles as a thank you for his heroic efforts—although he is quick to say that he was simply in the right place at the right time.
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“I was flying back a day early from [a medical conference] so I could drive my 18-year-old-son off to his first year of university,” mused the doctor. “Normally, I would have stayed until Friday. So it was really a miracle that I was on the flight on Thursday.”
“It was a team effort. The nurse and the crew should be recognized for their amazing work, assistance and everyone staying calm and focused.
“I am just glad I and the nurse were on the flight—but next time, I think I’ll drive!” he added with a laugh.
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