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Dr. John Bastulli Saves a Patient During Flight

By Admin on 
Posted on June 11, 2014

 

Perhaps it was divine intervention that put Dr. John Bastulli on the same flight as a 90-year-old Cleveland man returning from Phoenix, Ariz., in late April, who suffered cardiac arrest. Divine or otherwise, Dr. Bastulli, Chief of Anesthesia at St. Vincent Charity Medical Center, saved the man’s life.

On April 22, Dr. Bastulli, his wife Lorene and his daughter Mary were on their way home aboard a United Airlines flight from an Easter vacation in Phoenix, AZ. Seated in the same row across the aisle was 90-year-old Harry who was traveling with his son, a pilot for another airline. Harry’s son seated in the row in front of him had a small oxygen tank that was providing Harry with extra oxygen. A portable pulse oximeter was on Harry’s left index finger. This device approximates the amount of oxygen in the bloodstream. Normal levels are between 95-100.  

“After take-off I noticed that Harry was more short of breath and looked blue,” said Dr. Bastulli. “His pulse-oximeter reading was very low (52).”  He learned that Harry had chronic lung disease and had been hospitalized twice while in Phoenix. He was on his way home to Cleveland.

After Dr. Bastulli made several recommendations, Harry’s pulse oximeter readings were in the mid 70s and he looked more comfortable. “I asked the flight attendant about the type of medical equipment on board,” he said.  After showing his identification, she took Dr. Bastulli to see the resuscitation equipment on board, including an external defibrillator.

“About an hour and 15 minutes into the flight, Harry’s condition started to deteriorate. I asked the person next to him to allow me to sit next to him so I could keep a closer eye on him. Within five minutes he became disoriented and then passed out on my shoulder,” he said.

Dr. Bastulli laid Harry down on the seats with his head toward the aisle, while he moved into the aisle to work on resuscitating him. Harry was not breathing and since Dr. Bastulli could not feel a pulse, he asked his wife, Lorene, who is a nurse, to start chest compressions while he intubated. A cardiology fellow from the Cleveland Clinic happened to also be on the plane and came up to take over compressions.

“Within five minutes of intubating Harry and providing him with supplemental oxygen, his color was much better and he regained consciousness,” said Dr. Bastulli. He started a saline solution and applied the external defibrillator as a precautionary measure. Not only was Harry wide awake, but he had regained all his strength as he attempted to pull out his breathing tube.

The pilot diverted the plane to Wichita, KS. We descended quickly into Wichita and I had to remain standing and brace myself on the seat in front of me because I had to make sure that Harry did not pull any of his tubes out.  Once we landed, the local paramedics came on board and took over his care.”

In his 26 years of practice, Dr. Bastulli has never faced this situation in flight before. “I knew there was a chance that something would happen with him given his condition before take-off. Fortunately, I had time to mentally prepare myself in the event that Harry needed my help.” he said.   

As for Harry, Dr. Bastulli said he’s not been able to find out how he’s doing despite many attempts to find out.

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