YORK, Maine – Local nurse practitioner Kerri Icovitti Neel is being hailed by friends and family as a “hero” and a “rock star” after she worked to save the life of a fellow passenger aboard a flight from Fort Myers, Florida to Boston, Massachusetts last week.
It was not long after the trip began that the flight attendants came on the speaker system. A passenger was in distress. Were there any health care professionals aboard? Neel, a longtime practitioner at York Family Practice, immediately responded.
“It was not good,” she said. “She did not look good, and was obviously uncomfortable. It was clear it was either a pulmonary embolism or a heart attack. It came on really quickly and her chest hurt.”
What followed over the next 45 minutes was a “touch and go” situation, with Neel cobbling together treatment for her patient with medicine and medical equipment culled from the airline and other passengers.
“Immediately, I said, ‘We need aspirin,’ and it came pretty quickly,” Neel said. Next, she asked for nitroglycerin, used by patients with heart conditions. “There were mostly retired people on board, so I had nitro in hand within a second.”
The airplane itself was equipped with oxygen that was put into service. The woman was alert throughout. “She did really well in the worst possible circumstances. She never lost consciousness and intermittently could talk. When she did, she was cracking a joke. It wasn’t woe is me.
“I tried to keep her spirits up as best as I could until she could get the care she needed,” Neel said.
And the care the woman needed was not going to wait until the plane landed in Boston, said Neel. The woman’s blood pressure was 250/150. Although she continued to give her nitro, it was clear to Neel that the woman would die if she did not get to a hospital.
“I insisted that the plane land immediately. I said, ‘We’ve got to get her to an ER.’ There’s protocol the airline has to follow, and the pilot was talking to a doctor on the ground. I guess it’s a big deal to divert a plane, but the pilot said, ‘okay.’ We landed at JFK (in New York) not long afterward,” she said.
After the woman was taken away by ambulance and the flight resumed, her fellow passengers applauded Neel and thanked her.
“It was really sweet. None of them seemed to mind that they were going to be delayed,” she said.
Over the weekend, she was able to reach the woman’s son. She had passed away the following day. Neel hoped the woman had enough time for her family to be there with her.
“I would have liked a fairy tale ending,” she admits. “I wish she had made it.”
Since writing of the experience on Facebook, she said she’s been amazed at the response from family, friends and patients, who have praised her actions.
“People who aren’t in health care don’t realize. It’s just what you do,” she said. “I couldn’t have been there and not done the little I knew I could do.”