Follow up to “So Many Heroes Among Us…A Thanks to All Caregivers”Posted: July 2, 2014
Last week, we were humbled to share Dr. Roger Leonard’s story, “Not Retired”— a story that initially began as a reflection by Roger after coming to the aid of a fellow passenger in need of emergency medical care onboard United flight 575. As with many stories and events such as this, details often unfold in the aftermath that illuminate just how impressive human nature proves itself to be. As a follow up to those who have been reading, we do have some good news to report. Roger was able to speak with both the wife of the patient and his cardiologist, who described the event as “the most amazing save he has seen in his career”. Of course Roger is quick to point out that this amazing save is due in large part to many people on board, and on the ground that day. From the passenger sitting behind the patient, who though shaken, alerted the crew of a problem, to the skillful direction by the cardiologist upon receiving the patient in a small Midwestern town in the early hours of the morning, to the professionalism of the airline crew, the paramedics and every hospital team member who contributed to this incredible and successful outcome.
As the story has evolved, it becomes ever more difficult to separate it from a made for television movie. This was a very sick patient who survived cardiac arrest at 40,000 feet, and then was kept alive as the plane diverted to a hospital midway between arrival and departure cities, a total distance of over 1600 miles. And this was only the beginning of his fight for life that evening. Upon arrival at the hospital, the patient was in cardiogenic shock and still had to undergo placement of an intra-aortic balloon pump to help support his failing heart, along with three coronary artery stents urgently placed to open occluded vessels. Hypothermic care was initiated for 48 hours to help protect from possible neurologic damage, and he also survived a number of days on ventilator support. Each procedure individually presents its own survival challenges, but collectively, every cell of even the healthiest of patients is pushed to extreme limits.
When Roger finally had the opportunity to speak with the patient’s wife and cardiologist, the patient was awake, alert and eating a chicken dinner. The wife shared that he gave Roger a thumbs up. Everyone involved in his care believes he will make a full recovery, and while so much of an event like this can be attributed to luck, it was the skill of all involved, along with their commitment to providing the best possible patient care and customer service, no matter the circumstance, that made this luck reality. It also speaks to the beauty of processes put in place on airlines and in healthcare to make luck reality. And the debrief initiated afterward, without knowing the outcome for this patient, shows how committed everyone involved was, and is, in making certain the next patient or passenger has the same, if not better, care.
Roger always say, “It’s all about the patient”. But this story is also continued evidence of the good that happens in healthcare every day by caregivers who truly put patients first. The majority of caregivers will tell you this was all in a day’s work, a very extraordinary day perhaps, but a day you will not find promoted on the front page of any major media outlet. In our book, this was truly heroic—and we hope that in the days to come, more healthcare stories of heroism by these good caregivers are picked up and shared.