When medical emergencies happen on commercial flights it has the potential to send passengers into a panic and even force the plane to make an emergency landing. If there’s no doctor on board on a long-haul, the results can be devastating.
When Thomas took a flight from Geneva to New Delhi via Moscow, he was sure he had his vital medication in order. However, a few miles up in the sky and Thomas realised he had a problem; a very serious problem…
Thomas lived a quiet life in Amsterdam, Holland but found himself getting bored as spring turned into summer. For him, while he loved the beauty of his home town, the weather was still cold and Thomas felt like he simply needed a break, a change in his daily routine. He wasn’t sure exactly, he just knew he needed a vacation…a long one.
Thomas was the highly organised type, so it wasn’t long before he was at his computer sipping his morning coffee and looking for cheap flights to India. He had always wanted to travel there and particularly wanted to visit India for a few months. Thomas had saved some money and was ready to go but flights weren’t cheap…
Thomas knew the flight would be long. A stopover in Geneva then Moscow; how he wished he could afford to just fly direct. Then again, he also wished he was flying first class, but people can dream all they like. Either way, one thing was for sure: Thomas was in for a long flight or three, a few stopovers and a lot of duty free shopping over the next 24 hours.
Having suffered from type 1 Diabetes for many years, Thomas was always sure his life-saving medication was in order no matter where he went. He needed to spend some extra time arranging his medication doses, which he did effortlessly as it was second nature for Thomas. It was a royal pain in the neck mostly, but he just did it without thinking too much about the inconvenience…
Karttikeya Mangalam, or Kart as his friends call him, is a senior undergraduate student of Electrical Engineering in IIT Kanpur. That basically means that he is really smart, and especially when it comes to anything to do with electrical or technical things. But who is Kart and what does he have to do with out story about Thomas and his trip?
Sometimes in life you find yourself in just the right place at exactly the right time; and that’s what happened here. In fact, Thomas really has Kart to thank for saving his life, and that happened way up high in the open skies, somewhere over Afghanistan. It’s just as well Kart was on the same flight as Thomas, otherwise the flight would have been a total disaster for everyone on board but especially for Thomas…
As part of his studies, Kart had been on an exchange program at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland, so he got a connecting flight back to India which he conveniently picked up in Geneva. He was already in his last year of studies and knew a thing or two about electrical engineering. But how was that going to help Thomas?
Doctor On Board
Kart noticed a commotion at the back of the plane, and when his curiosity got the better of him he unbuckled his seat belt and went to see what was going on. It was then that he met Thomas for the very first time, albeit not under the best of circumstances. Thomas had forgotten something vital back at the airport and needed a doctor. Luckily for Thomas, there was one on board…
Back At The Airport
It was back at the airport where things started going wrong for poor Thomas in the first place. He was tired, and delayed and the 24 hour ordeal to India was taxing. When he went through security he inadvertently left his insulin injector inside the deposit tray of the security area in Moscow. That was a big issues, and not one that even a doctor could solve easily.
Without wanting to get too technical for now, the device was specially calibrated to deliver just the right amount of insulin that Thomas needed. As five hours had passed since he had taken his last shot, his blood sugar levels spiked badly and he was on the verge of passing out…
The irony here is almost too much to bare; not only was there a qualified doctor on board, he was also a diabetic himself and had a bunch of insulin on board with him too. However, as it wasn’t calibrated properly it was totally useless to Thomas. Just as well Kart was there to help.
Doesn’t Even Fit
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the insulin cartridge that Thomas did have didn’t fit into the insulin pen that the doctor had. Only some ingenious type of modification could possibly help here, and ultimately save the life of Thomas. By now Thomas had actually passed out and the situation was looking dire…
To the doctor’s mind, the situation was so serious that he asked the crew to tell the pilot to execute an emergency landing at the nearest airport if Thomas was to live through this ordeal. But it would take at least an hour for the pilot to land anywhere, and by that time, according to the doc, Thomas could be dead.
It’s truly amazing but Kart stepped into action to save the day. Firstly, he asked the flight crew to give him premium Wi-Fi access, a privilege reserved usually for first class passengers only. Once online, Kart found the manual relating to the specific insulin pen on board. With that, he started to dissect the insulin pen, drawing on what he had learnt in engineering school.
Kart sure is a smart cookie as we already mentioned. In his own words, “I realised that somehow there were only 12 parts in it, while the diagram clearly showed 13 different parts. On cross-checking, I realised that it was missing a spring that coiled before the cartridge and was essential to transfer the push motion from the back to the needle in front. To troubleshoot this, I searched around Thomas’ seat and in the aisle area nearby to find the spring but in vain.” But instead of panicking, Kart kept his cool.
Kart was on a roll, and he wasn’t about to stop now. He immediately instructed the crew to ask all the people on the aircraft for their ballpoint pens. He wanted the springs from them in order to adapt the insulin pen for Thomas. Within a few minutes Kart was in possession of 5 ballpoint pens, and he found a spring that matched…
By this stage Thomas was turning blue, foaming at the mouth and totally unconscious. Kart noted the look on the doctor’s face and it wasn’t good. But again, instead of panicking, he simply did what he did best; fix things.
Within another minute or two Kart had adapted the pen and handed it to the doctor who adjusted the dose, changed the needle and stuck it into a prominent vein in Thomas’ arm. Sure it was a touch and go 15 minutes but thankfully Thomas awoke soon after and looked a little better.
The doctor told the crew to inform the pilot that an emergency landing wouldn’t be necessary as Thomas was on the road to recovery. When the plane finally landed in Delhi, Kart accompanied Thomas off the plane and all the way to the Medanta Hospital in Gurugram so he could be checked out.
Kart took the whole thing in his stride, and said he was looking forward to visiting Thomas in Amsterdam one day, “On the stretcher in the ambulance, he thanked me a lot and told me to come visit him in Amsterdam where he owns a restaurant and brewery. I supposedly will receive as much free food and beer as I want when I come,” Kart joked.