Dr. Sij Hemal was aboard the Air France flight heading towards New York when when suddenly, an emergency was declared 35,000 feet above the ground.
A pregnant woman had gone into labor and there was no time to make an emergency landing. The off-duty doctor had to act quickly, or the lives of the mother and baby could be in danger.
An Eventful Journey
Pregnant Toyin Ogundipe was only a week away from giving birth to her second baby. She and her four-year old daughter were travelling to New York a few days before the delivery and expected to welcome the baby in United States.
Things were going exceedingly well as the mother-daughter duo arrived at the airport to check in for their flight. Apart from typical complains of back ache and swollen feet, Toyin was feeling pretty well and looking forward to her trip to New York.
At the same airport, an off-duty doctor was returning back to New York with the same Air France flight as Toyin after spending some time with his family in India.
27-year-old Sij Hemal wasn’t expecting to report to duty before landing in Cleveland, but a sudden turn of events had him holding a makeshift surgical clamp, 35,000 feet above the ground, and helping the cabin crew with a medical emergency that had suddenly occurred on the flight: Toyin had gone into labor mid-air a week before her due date.
A Medical Emergency on Board
The Air France flight was expected to land in New York on schedule and the flight was already mid-air when the emergency occurred.
The food and beverage cart had just approached Hemal, and as the flight attendant handed the doctor his meal, she asked him what he would like to drink. “Champagne, please,” he had said. Hemal was tired from his trip and was looking forward to unwinding with his glass of champagne and relaxing for the next 8 hours.
The doctor had been traveling for an entire day and he still had a long way to go until reaching his final destination in Cleveland. He had taken a flight from Delhi to Paris, and after landing in New York, he would have to catch another plane to get to his clinic in Cleveland.
Suddenly, a cabin crew member rushed to the front and asked if there was a doctor or medical professional on board. Someone had apparently gone into labor. Hemal sprung to his feet and told the crew that he was a urology resident at Cleveland Clinic’s Glickman Urological and Kidney Institute. The flight attendant took him to 41-year-old Toyin, who was already having her contractions.
Using Makeshift Surgical Tools
The doctor told CNN later that he didn’t understand the medical emergency until Toyin told him that she was pregnant. She was initially complaining of a back ache which made him think that she might have kidney stones, but it was later revealed that she had gone into an early labor.
Due to the plane’s route, it wasn’t possible to make an emergency landing soon enough, and the closest airport to them was a military base, two hours away. Toyin would have to give birth on the plane.
In order to make more room for the delivery, the 41-year-old mother was moved to first class, where there were fewer passengers and plenty of space. The plane continued on its route towards the JFK airport which was still four hours away.
For Hemal, it wasn’t the first time he had delivered a baby – but doing it on the floor of a moving plane with no surgical equipment or medical staff was definitely a new experience. Toyin said that she trusted Hemal after learning about his experience with deliveries and she was pretty relaxed around the time of birth, knowing that she was in safe hands.
A Token of Gratitude
Luckily, Hemal had been seated next to another medical professional, a French pediatrician named Susan Shepherd who helped with the delivery and together they were able to use a shoe string a makeshift clamp to tie the umbilical cord. A healthy baby boy named Jake had been born on the flight.
Once the plane landed, both mother and the newborn baby were rushed off to a nearby hospital and were discharged later that day without any complications.
Dr. Hemal also managed to catch his connecting flight to Cleveland, with the help of the airport staff. He was also gifted an entire bottle of champagne to make up for the glass that he missed during the flight along with a travel voucher by the airline company in return for his medical services.