JABSOM Graduate Provides Care at 36,000 Feet Above the Pacific Ocean

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"Is there a medical provider on board?" 

The question many are familiar with from movies or books came across the speakers on a recent Alaska Airlines flight from Seattle to Honolulu.

Fortunately, JABSOM Class of 2021 graduate Malia Brennan, MD, was on board.

"I saw the flight attendants running up and down. It seemed pretty serious, and I went back and tried to see what was going on."

Brennan, who's in her third year of general surgery residency at the University of Washington, noticed the man was in cardiac arrest.

"I just got there and somebody asked, 'Are you a doctor?'" Brennan recalls. "I said, 'yes,' and then the steps just flowed from there."

Calling on the skills learned at JABSOM and the University of Washington, Brennan led a makeshift team composed of a respiratory therapist, an EMT, and several flight attendants.

"We did CPR, and we were able to get a pulse back," she said.

The medical emergency happened several hours into the flight and forced the plane to turn around over the Pacific Ocean and make an unscheduled landing. Brennan stayed with the patient for the two hours it took to get to San Francisco.

"Luckily, we didn't have to do CPR for that long," Brennan said. "We got ROSC, Return of Spontaneous Circulation, pretty quickly. It was more so ventilating with a bag and ensuring his airway was protected. We wanted to monitor him for any recurrence of cardiac arrhythmias. So we were with him for the duration of the flight, checking his vital signs.

When we got back to San Francisco, the paramedics took him off the airplane. I hope he's doing ok."

After the brief delay, the Alaska Airlines flight departed again for Honolulu, where Brennan was scheduled to visit family and collaborate with other Native Hawaiian healers at Waiʻanae Coast Comprehensive Health Center.

"I think the main thing is that I'm grateful for my JABSOM and University of Washington training. It gave me the skills that I needed. The people who were on board with me helped. We were definitely a team, and while I never expected to be there, I think we did the best, and I hope he's doing ok."

Malia Brennan, MD (on right) and JABSOM grad Frances Morden, MD. Both are University of Washington Surgery residents.