Twenty-two-year-old Courtney Donlon was excited to recently land her first job as a nurse. Little did she know that one of her first solo encounters with a patient would not happen in a hospital or clinic.
Sometimes, you are just in the right place at the right time, which was a grateful reality for both Donlon and her patient in the sky.
The new nurse was on a flight back to her home in Canada from Florida.
Donlon, with nine months of experience under her belt as a nurse at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, was on a flight home returning from Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
She was awakened by a call of distress over the PA system of her airplane. A flight attendant was asking for the assistance of a medical professional if any happened to be on board.
It was a true emergency on the plane.
Without hesitating, Donlon got up and informed the crew staff who she was. She said they seemed a little surprised that she was so young, but were grateful for the help.
“I stood up and went over to the flight attendant,” Donlon told MyCentralJersey.com in an interview. “As soon as I identified myself as a nurse, they let me start assessing the woman in distress.”
Donlon began checking the passenger, who was experiencing severe pain in her chest. She quickly realized that the woman was suffering from a heart attack.
Donlon tried to keep the patient calm.
Donlon introduced herself to the ailing passenger. “I told her I was Courtney and I worked at Robert Wood Johnson and what kind of floor I worked on so she would start to trust me a little bit,” she said. “I told her she was in good hands.”
Donlon’s training as a nurse was invaluable in the moment. “I was trying to think a step ahead—if she loses consciousness or a pulse and I have to give CPR,” Donlon said. “I was thinking how do I make what I do have here work.”
She assessed the situation.
The new nurse listened closely to her 57-year-old female patient, absorbing every word she could to give her the best treatment she could under the circumstances. “She had shooting pain that went up her left arm up her neck and down her shoulder blade,” said Donlon. “That’s really characteristic of a myocardial infarction—a heart attack—in women.”
Donlon quickly asked for oxygen for the woman from the attendants on the flight.
“For a heart attack, there is a common acronym called MONA,” Donlon explained. “It stands for Morphine, Oxygen, Nitroglycerine, and Aspirin.”
Donlon kept the woman talking, asking questions about her medical history, which is how she learned that this was the first time the woman had ever had a pain this severe. Like Donlon, she had fallen asleep only to wake up to shortness of breath and pain.
“She didn’t have any prior heart conditions, but it turns out the pain actually had started the day before, but she thought it was discomfort like maybe she slept wrong on her neck or maybe she pulled it in the garden or from or from carrying a heavy purse,” Donlon said.
The nurse said they needed to get the woman to a hospital as soon as possible.
Donlon let the flight crew know how serious the situation was.
“Everybody was very cooperative,” she said. “When I needed aspirin, the flight attendants checked with the captain but quickly approved asking the passengers for it. As soon as they made the announcement, people were so helpful, jumping up and looking in their makeup bags and pill pouches to get the aspirin she needed. And she chewed it as it would make it act faster.”
It was crucial that Donlon keep her patient calm. Stress would only exacerbate the pain. To do so, the nurse joked a little and kept her own tone calm and collected. Fearing the worst, given what Donlon was continually monitoring, she told the pilot that they had to land the plane. The woman needed to get to the ER immediately.
Within twenty minutes, the pilot landed the plane in Charleston, South Carolina, where the woman was rushed to a nearby medical facility.
Donlon continued to reassure the woman.
“I got off the plane and onto the tarmac with her. She was nervous,” Donlon said. “I gave a report to the paramedics. She asked me to get off with her and hold her hand until she was with the paramedics. She was traveling alone. And we really created a trusting relationship—a bond. She felt safe, I hope, that she was under my care.”
The next day, it was back to work as usual for Donlon. Only on this particular day, she had quite a story to tell.
Source: New Nurse Being Credited With Saving Life of Plane Passenger from US News and RWJ nurse from East Brunswick saves life on plane from mycentraljersey.com and Hero Nurse Puts Training To The Test by BS New York on YouTube.