June 9, 2023

Nurse Couple Save Passenger's Life on a Plane

Nurse Couple Save Passenger's Life on a Plane

Image: Emily Raines and Daniel Shifflett 

On May 1st, 2023, RNs Emily Raines, 31, and Daniel Shifflett, 28, jumped into action to save a man's life on a flight from Fort Lauderdale to Baltimore after a medical emergency occurred midair.

Raines and Shifflett met in 2018 while both working at Sheppard Pratt psychiatric hospital in Towson, MD. At the time of the medical emergency, they were passengers on Southwest Flight 553 traveling from Fort Lauderdale to Baltimore. 

Shifflett now works in finance. He was a nurse for five years before moving into finance in 2021. Raines has been a nurse for ten years and is an acute care nurse at Greater Baltimore Medical Center.

They were on their way back after taking a four-day cruise to the Bahamas. After trying multiple times to change to an earlier flight that day, they were unable to. Their cruise ship docked in Fort Lauderdale at 9 AM, and their flight didn’t leave until 4:20 PM. 

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“I’m not sure what would have happened,” Raines said, glad they were unsuccessful in changing the flight.

Saving a Life on an Airplane

While in mid-air the flight attendant made an announcement stating there was a medical emergency and that help was needed from any medical professionals that may be onboard.  Approximately halfway through the flight, a passenger became unconscious and his face was a blueish-purple color. Furthermore, he didn’t have a pulse. 

“I could hear the panic in the flight attendant’s voice,” recalled Raines and knew “this is going to be serious.”

The pair quickly jumped into action. Shifflett said, “We just kind of looked at each other,” and then they both left their seats to assist in the front of the plane. 

They were both seated near the back of the plane during the flight. On the way up, they made plans and assigned roles to each other Raines said in an interview with CBS News, "On our way up there, I was trying to pregame, like, 'Hey, if we have to do compressions, I need you to do compressions. I'll take care of everything else.”

The flight attendant led them to a man who was slumped over in his seat. “A flight attendant was trying to do compressions, but the guy was on his chair,” said Shifflett

Raines and Shifflett placed the man on the ground and began to do chest compressions. The middle aisle they had to work in was a tight area. Shifflett recalled, “It was difficult to do because we were in the middle of a plane aisle, which is very thin.” 

Raines explained that his airway was blocked, “When I gave him a rescue breath, I could see that his chest wasn’t rising.” Luckily the flight was equipped with medical supplies, including an oropharyngeal airway. According to Shifflett, “There were a few people that were definitely trying to help.” Passengers nearby jumped in to help organize and sift through the medical equipment to assist in the rescue. 

With the use of the oropharyngeal airway and a bag valve mask, Shifflett continued performing chest compressions. Shifflett said, “I was very confident that we would be able to give the best care possible in that situation.” After performing multiple rounds of compressions, they were able to bring him back around seven minutes before the plane landed  

Image: Raines and Shifflett

“It was very overwhelming,” said Raines. Raines mentioned it “was amazing” to see his eyes open and that there are “not a lot of times when you give CPR or have situations like this do patients truly make it. It doesn’t happen often.”

Shifflett followed by saying, “Thank goodness this worked,” recalling the moment the man regained consciousness. The man was immediately taken to the hospital. 

Keeping in Touch With The Passenger 

After the event, both Raines and Shifflett called their families and colleagues to tell them the story. Raines mentioned, “It’s not every day that these things happen. I’m really glad we were able to be there to help.” Neither of them had been in this kind of situation before and were glad to be onboard this flight with their medical backgrounds. 

Since the flight, both Raines and Shifflett kept in contact with the passenger and his family. One week after the incident, the man’s wife messaged them an update on his condition, saying, “We are still not completely sure what happened; he didn’t have a heart attack…. multiple factors played a role. Mostly, it was due to low oxygen levels.” 

Image: Text from passenger’s wife

"We Saved Somebody's Life!"

The man’s wife and family were grateful, telling the couple, “I cannot possibly thank you enough for saving [his] life. There are no words.” Angie Feurer, the Chief Nursing Officer with Greater Baltimore Medical Center HealthCare, congratulated Raines by saying, “We are so proud of Emily and her quick response during this emergency, and we are glad to hear the gentleman is now doing well.”

The couple was excited about the positive outcome of the event. Raines said that "We were amped because it's so awesome to have that feeling, and afterward, you're just like, 'Oh wow. We did this. We saved somebody's life!'" 

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