While appreciation is coming in for five young All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) doctors who managed to save the life of a two-year-old girl on a Bengaluru-Delhi Vistara flight, the drop-down oxygen mask — an emergency measure in case of turbulence, unscheduled landings, and even crashes — became an unexpected ally in this tale of sky-high heroism: A conduit between life and uncertainty.

AIIMS Senior Resident (Anaesthesia) Dr Navdeep Kaur — one of the five extraordinary medical professionals aboard the Vistara flight UK-814 — shares the hair-raising narrative of the life-saving efforts.

It all started with a distress call from the cockpit. Responding to it, Kaur and four of her colleagues, who were returning to Delhi after attending a conference in Bengaluru, quickly jumped into action.

The doctors who saved the toddler's life
The doctors who saved the toddler’s life. Dr Navdeep Kaur is third from right. (Supplied)

“We immediately knew that we had to do something as the child’s pulse wasn’t there. As per the paediatric life support, we started with chest compressions. We maintained the airway and I took an intravenous (IV) cannula and then we resuscitated the baby with drugs,” recounted Kaur.

She spoke of how an ordinary aeroplane turned into a hospital’s emergency ward.

She said it was 45-50 minutes of resuscitation but there was no monitor to assess the rhythm, heart rate or oxygen saturation.

“After about 30 minutes of resuscitation, we made a call that the child was already a high-risk post-operative case of a congenital heart disease, who was operated on 25 days ago. So, we decided we needed an emergency landing,” said Kaur.

“This child needed an escalated support. She needed intubation. So, we coordinated with the captain on board and they helped us and landed in Nagpur within 15 minutes, with an ambulance waiting for us,” she explained.

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How tube from oxygen mask helped

Representative pic
Representative pic of oxygen mask (Creative Commons)

But it wasn’t just medical expertise that turned the tide. “There was no oxygen tubing to connect the oxygen cylinder to the Ambu bag,” revealed Kaur.

With quick thinking born out of necessity, the team zeroed in on the drop-down oxygen masks — a fixture in every aeroplane.

Amid the uncertainty, the oxygen mask, normally a comfort to passengers, emerged as an unlikely hero.

“So we actually got the tubing from the emergency oxygen mask. With a blunt kind of knife that was available, we cut the tubing and managed to use it to connect the oxygen cylinder to the Ambu bag,” she recounted.

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What else from the aircraft was used?

With the oxygen flow secured, the medical team embarked on a battle against time. “That is how we continued the chest compression for about 45-50 minutes,” said Kaur.

Against all odds and without the luxury of monitoring equipment, the doctors fought valiantly. “What is the heart rate of the child? What is the blood pressure of the child? What is the saturation of the child? We knew nothing,” recalled Kaur.

Meanwhile, the team also managed to use the drug adrenaline, which is normally used as per the universal protocol in a situation of resuscitation. The drug was available inside the aircraft.

Representative pic of using Automated External Defibrillator
Representative pic of using Automated External Defibrillator (Creative Commons)

“With the use of the IV cannula, we managed to inject adrenaline into the blood immediately as per the paediatric dosage,” she explained.

She added that they also made use of the Automated External Defibrillator (AED), which is a medical device used to administer a shock that can restart the heart of the patient and can help in continuing CPR.

This was available on the aircraft and one shock was given to the toddler.

Kaur explained that doctors are trained in two ways to handle such cases: Inpatient protocol and outside hospital.

“We are trained on when you are outside hospital with just basic life support like an AED,” she added.

As far as the condition of the child, Kaur said the toddler needed proper cardiac-arrest ICU care. That was a separate protocol of managing post-cardiac-arrest cases.

“The child is now in the ICU and is under treatment in Nagpur,” she said with a sigh of relief.

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