JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - As part of an Army Critical Care Team, Capt. Erica Hatcher was one of seven 47th Combat Support Hospital Soldiers who responded to a medical emergency, saving a fellow passenger’s life during the Sept. 1 flight from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to Guam to take part in the Task Force West COVID-19 relief mission.
“It is something you think would never happen in real-life,” said Hatcher, a critical care nurse. “It was like something out of a movie, literally bringing him into the aisle and starting compressions right in the middle of a crowded airplane. It’s something you never think will happen, but I am glad we were all there.”
“Approximately 30 minutes into the flight, an overhead page was announced, asking if there were any health professionals on board,” said Capt. Jason Marcom, also a critical care nurse, in a memorandum.
Hearing the call, he and Capt. Aimee Moores moved toward the passenger in distress, finding Capt. Chelsea Zyburt there prepping for vital signs, he said. Joining Zyburt, Moores began to obtain the passenger’s history and note the discomforts.
“One of things we all learn very early is ‘sick or not sick,’” said Moores, an internal medicine physician. “(This passenger) when we walked up was ‘oh, he is sick’ and that moved us into ‘we need to be serious right now and start doing things quickly.’”
As this continued, Marcom was checking the patient’s pulse when it disappeared, he said. The team, now joined by critical care nurses Hatcher, Capt. Megan Hulcher, and Capt. Robert “Andy” Kalich, escalated the emergency procedures.
This meant quickly moving the passenger into the aisle between the airplane’s rows and dividing the tasks – including chest compressions, maintaining the airway, and organizing the on-hand emergency supplies. After the first set of compressions, the team was able to resuscitate the passenger.
“It was amazing to see everyone fall into their roles and accomplish the things they did in the middle of an airplane … doing stuff that requires a lot of skill without the best equipment and not in the best space,” Moores said.
“We all just started grabbing supplies, started working, and doing what we needed to do,” Hatcher said. “It really set a good (tone) for us, working together as a team for our mission in Guam.”
As the team monitored the patient, the plane made an emergency landing in Portland, Oregon, for further evaluation of the patient. During the second leg of the journey, the team was updated that the passenger made it to the hospital and was expected to make a full recovery.
“This gentleman was probably the luckiest man on that flight that day, even though he had a bumpy ride, to have a critical team (there),” said Hulcher. “This was the first time we all worked together. It felt like a nursing simulation – ‘this is what you have, go!’ It was very lucky we all worked really well together. It was a great way for us to get a team building exercise in, inadvertently.”
The critical care team of Soldiers from the 47th CSH, 62nd Medical Brigade, are currently working at Madigan Army Medical Center.