Man Dies from Heart Attack on Airplane

Caroline and her husband, Jack, were heading home to New Mexico after a relaxing vacation in California when Jack began complaining of feelings of discomfort, which he assumed was due to food poisoning. Caroline says that approximately 30 minutes before the flight was due to arrive, Jack’s body became very rigid and then relaxed, and Jack fell unconscious. 

Recognizing that her husband had suffered a heart attack, Caroline immediately notified a flight attendant, who leaped into action and obtained the services of two health care providers on board the flight. Despite their efforts, however, Jack did not survive the incident.

Caroline joins The Doctors to share her feelings that her husband’s life could have been saved if the flight attendant had used the automated external defibrillator on board the plane. She says that when the plane landed and paramedics took over, the attendant explained that the device had not been used because Jack’s chest was too hairy.

ER physician Dr. Travis Stork explains that an AED – a portable electronic device that can measure the heart’s rhythm and, if needed, send an electric shock to the heart to try to a restore normal rhythm – is a critical tool in treating sudden cardiac arrests. He says, however, that body hair can prevent the device from properly attaching to the body and therefore can limit the device’s effectiveness. He further explains that AED kits typically contain razors to combat this problem.

The Doctors contacted Southwest Airlines in regard to this story and received the following response:

First and foremost, we extend our deepest sympathies to the passenger for her loss. Our report indicates that the Flight Attendants onboard did not deviate from medical emergency protocol, including the instruction for using the automated external defibrillator (AED). All of our aircraft are fully equipped with AEDs and our flight attendants receive initial and annual recurrent CPR and AED training. There were two medical professionals onboard this flight who assisted our flight attendants in applying oxygen; checking vitals; administering CPR; and prepping the Customer for the potential use of the AED. While in the air, our Employees contacted paramedics who met the flight immediately upon arrival.

  • Click here for more information regarding the use of AEDs.

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