“Is there a doctor or nurse on board?”
Unless you’re a doctor or a nurse you wouldn’t have much of a reaction to that question if you heard it while on a flight. However, when a passenger going from Moscow to New Delhi via Moscow recently experienced a medical emergency, an engineering student offered his assistance.
It didn’t matter that Karttikeya Mangalam, the student, didn’t have a background in medicine—it was his engineering degree that saved the day.
On a flight from Geneva to New Delhi, a flight attendant asked if a doctor was on board.
After spending a semester at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, Mangalam, a senior engineering student, was finally returning home.
He was about three hours into the second leg of his trip when he heard a flight attendant ask the passengers if anyone was a doctor.
Mangalam noticed a man, who he assumed to be a doctor, rush to tend to a young man seated two rows behind him. The student turned around to see if he could offer any assistance.
A man in his 30s with Type 1 diabetes started to feel sick.
Mangalam learned that the medical emergency was due to a man named Thomas who had Type 1 diabetes. Thomas, who was in his 30s, had diabetes since he was 11 years old and “always carried his insulin pump with him.”
However, at security in Moscow he was required to take off the pump usually attached to his abdomen—and he accidentally left it behind.
It had been five hours since Thomas had been able to take insulin and he was beginning to feel the effects. According to Mangalam, Thomas’s blood sugar was around 21. Under normal circumstances it should be around 6.
A doctor on the flight rushed to help before Thomas passed out.
“The doctor tried to calm him down and explained to the hostess that he needed urgent insulin or he would pass out with possibly multiple organ failures and coma or worse,” Mangalam wrote.
Thomas did have some short-term fast-acting insulin with him, but did not have a way to inject the insulin. Luckily the doctor who responded to the call was also diabetic and had an insulin pen.
The doctor administered his own insulin to Thomas.
There was just one problem. The insulin cartridges Thomas had were too small for the doctor’s pen, so they wouldn’t fit properly.
Both Thomas and the doctor agreed to use the doctor’s insulin, even though it was long-term and would take longer to work.
Mangalam went back to his seat believing the situation had been resolved, but about an hour later he heard another commotion and realized it was Thomas.
Thomas passed out, and the plane planned to land due to the medical emergency.
Once Mangalam realized Thomas had passed out, the engineering student went back to assist the doctor again. The doctor told him he was going to attempt to use Thomas’s insulin, however when he tried to inject the insulin the needle within the insulin pen jammed.
“From what I could [assess], I think he panicked at this point and asked the air hostess to land immediately lest it would be very difficult to save Thomas,” Mangalam said.
Curious about why the pen suddenly stopped working, Mangalam took a closer look, but he was unable to determine the issue. So, he asked the flight attendant for access to the plane’s Wi-Fi, which is reserved for business class.
Mangalam worked quickly to figure out why the doctor’s insulin pen stopped working.
The senior engineering student searched online for the pen’s manual. He wanted to check something.
“Now, engineering drawing was something I loathed in my first year but had practiced enough to scare a B and which was also enough to understand this particular drawing,” he wrote.
He was able to use diagram he found online to determine that one of the pieces of the pen had gone missing.
Luckily the lost piece was a spring, the same kind of spring that’s used in a ballpoint pen.
A flight attendant asked passengers for a ballpoint pen.
After acquiring a handful of pens, Mangalam worked quickly to reassemble the insulin pen with a properly fitting spring. He gave the insulin pen back to the doctor, who inserted Thomas’s insulin and injected it into him.
Within minutes they started to see a positive reaction and his blood sugar levels began to stabilize. The doctor assured the flight attendant Thomas was no longer in danger so there would be no need to land early.
Mangalam and the doctor were able to save his life using a ballpoint pen and an insulin pen.
Karttikeya Mangalam, a final year electrical engineering BTech student, saves life of a 30-year-old Dutch national using his basic engineering acumen. #IITK feels proud to share his story in his own words.https://t.co/SmHjYFUI2n pic.twitter.com/ybnRp19K3f
— IIT Kanpur (@IITKanpur) May 7, 2018
When Thomas regained consciousness Mangalam explained what happened. Thomas was extremely grateful for the student’s help.
Mangalam accompanied Thomas to the hospital once the plane landed in New Delhi, where Thomas received a new insulin pump.
“This incident has made me realise the importance of the basic engineering skills we are taught in our freshman year here,” Mangalam wrote. “I think saving a man’s life is more than what anyone could ever imagine to achieve from the basic engineering knowledge endowed in that year.”
The lesson here? Pay attention in school—you never know when you might need to use even the simplest concepts.