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Patient Stories

Cardiac Care at 30,000 Feet

Nurse Responds to Cardiac Emergency During Flight to Italy

After working a shift at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital, Gail Baltar, BSN, RN, was on a flight to Venice, Italy, to start her vacation on a cruise ship when she learned that another passenger — a family practice physician from Philadelphia — was experiencing chest pain.

“During the last two hours of the flight, the flight attendants asked for medical personnel on the flight to come forward to help with a medical situation, so I jumped right in,” says Gail.

When Gail assessed the passenger, she saw that he was pale and sweating. He said that he was experiencing chest pain and palpitations. Using the emergency kit on the airplane, Gail took the man’s blood pressure, which was very low. Gail also noted his pulse was irregular, and the passenger said he had a history of an irregular heartbeat.

Based on the passenger’s pulse, Gail confirmed that he was experiencing atrial fibrillation — an irregular, rapid heart rate — so she connected him to the AED, which confirmed her findings.

To help stabilize him until they arrived in Venice, Gail started an IV on the passenger to give him fluids, and she put him on a nasal cannula to provide him with more oxygen. The man had not taken his blood thinner medication that day, so Gail gave him aspirin from the emergency kit.

When they landed, paramedics were awaiting the passenger’s arrival to transfer him to the nearest hospital. “One of the four paramedics spoke English, so I was able to provide a detailed report to the paramedics,” says Gail.

“A plane is the last place I would expect to use my skills, but I’m glad I could help and that we had a positive outcome,” she says.