Dr. Sij Hemal was expecting a relaxing flight to the U.S. from Paris as part of his trek home from India when his medical expertise was called upon.
The second-year Indian American urology resident at Cleveland Clinic’s Glickman Urological and Kidney Institute was flying first class for the first time in his life Dec. 17 when a passenger on the flight went into labor.
The 27-year-old doctor, who had been watching a movie and was awaiting a glass of champagne just days after attending his best friend’s wedding, said he was “pretty tired from jet lag” on the flight and was hoping to get some rest.
“I thought I’d just have a drink and fall asleep,” Hemal said in a Cleveland Clinic news release. “As it turned out, I’m glad I didn’t drink anything.”
Toyin Ogundipe, a banker who resides in both the United Kingdom and Nigeria, went into labor midway through the flight as the flight was over the southern coast of Greenland.
In lieu of making an emergency landing, Hemal volunteered to help Ogundipe and instructed the pilot to stay the course to the JFK International Airport in New York, the release said.
“Her contractions were about 10 minutes apart, so the pediatrician (Dr. Susan Shepherd, who was sitting right next to Hemal on the flight) and I began to monitor her vital signs and keep her comfortable,” explained Hemal in the report.
The duo suggested the patient be moved to the roomier first-class section, which had very few passengers, the clinic said.
The doctors used instruments and supplies in the flight’s scanty medical kit to routinely check her vital signs, including blood pressure, oxygen rate and pulse, it said.
Within the course of an hour, Ogundipe’s contractions accelerated; they occurred seven, then five and finally two minutes apart.
“That’s when we knew we were going to deliver on the plane,” Hemal recalled in the report. Although his practice area is urology, Hemal delivered seven babies during medical school. “We’re trained to stay calm and think clearly in emergency situations,” he adds. “I just tried to think ahead to what might go wrong, and come up with a creative solution.”
After about a half hour of pushing, Ogundipe gave birth to a boy, whom she named Jake. Hemal safely removed the placenta, used a surgical clamp (and a shoestring) to tie off the umbilical cord, and then cut it off with a pair of scissors, the clinic added.
Upon arrival at JFK, Ogundipe, Jake and the mother’s 4-year-old daughter Amy were whisked away by ambulance to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center, just four miles from the airport, the news release noted.
Hemal, with still one final leg left on his journey, was escorted by officials through immigration and to his gate and he eventually made it onto his Cleveland-bound flight.