Three long-time members of United Healthcare Workers-West saved the life of a 53-year-old passenger on their Southwest Airlines flight from Sacramento to Burbank early Tuesday.
The trio was among a group of 35 workers headed to Southern California on Flight #3775 to attend a contract bargaining session with their employer, Catholic Healthcare West. Erin O’Neil, 39, a respiratory therapist at Mercy San Juan Hospital in Sacramento and David Lei, a registered nurse at Mark Twain St. Joseph’s Hospital in San Andreas, said they initially heard noise coming from the back of the airplane, but when someone shouted “Code Blue,” they leapt to their feet. In a hospital, “Code Blue” means someone’s heart has stopped.
They ran to the back of the plane where they found a man unconscious in his seat.
“I immediately clicked into work mode,” O’Neil said. He said he asked crew members for an ambulatory bag, which is used to force air into a patient’s lungs. Instead, a flight attendant brought him a device used to administer mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Using it, he was able to successfully revive the patient. He said the man’s color improved, his breathing improved and his blood pressure rose.
O’Neil also communicated directly with the paramedics waiting on the tarmac who took over as soon as the plane landed.
Lei, 40, who helped O’Neil, said crew members and fellow passengers stayed calm despite the drama unfolding around them. He said his medical skills have been called upon outside the workplace but never in an airplane.
Fellow UHW member Lanette Silva, a medical assistant at Mercy Medical Group in Sacramento, retrieved the airplane’s automatic defibrillator, which, fortunately, wasn’t needed.
The hospital workers were pleased to announce the man walked off the airplane on his own. They also said they hoped bargaining went as well as their morning.