Saving more than vision

Ophthalmologists undergo several years of advanced training on the visual system, but before they become eye care specialists they must attend medical school to become doctors. Specialty doctors seldom use their basic medical training once they have started practicing in their specialty area.

Dr. Michael Abràmoff, professor of ophthalmology at University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics, had a surprise opportunity to apply his medical training while he and his family were returning from vacation.

On a flight from Atlanta, Abràmoff observed a flight attendant running down the aisle. He announced that he is a physician and asked if they needed help. The attendant shouted, "Yes, please!" so Abràmoff ran with her to the back of the plane where a woman was shaking an older lady in an aisle seat and shouting, "Is she dead?", "Mom, please wake up!"

Jolene Kramer was trying to arouse her mother, Larita Kurt, who had gone into cardiac arrest and was non-responsive. The two were traveling with family members who were seated nearby and distraught with Kurt’s critical condition.

Abràmoff felt no carotid pulse on Kurt, and then with help from her daughter and fellow passengers lifted her out of the seat. He squeezed Kurt into the aisle between seats and immediately started chest compressions to revive her. The limited space and positioning made it difficult to administer aid so he found himself doing compressions while lying across a row of seats.

Meanwhile, a flight attendant had located an automated external defibrillator (AED), medication and oxygen in the back of the plane and returned to the scene. The attendant, a fellow passenger who is a nurse, Kramer, and Abràmoff worked as a team by positioning AED pads on Kurt’s chest and applying shocks. Eventually, Kurt recovered a sinus rhythm, was stabilized, and became responsive.

Abràmoff covered Kurt with blankets and attempted to calm her and family members down for the remainder of the flight. He consulted with the pilot who decided to continue flying to Cedar Rapids for emergency medical care rather than make an emergency landing short of their destination. After a hard and fast landing at the Eastern Iowa Airport, an awaiting ambulance whisked Kurt off to a local hospital where she underwent cardiac bypass surgery to treat blocked arteries. The emergency department doctor credited Abràmoff for his quick thinking which allowed the ED team a chance to perform the surgery necessary to save Kurt’s life.

Since that harrowing flight and eventful night in the hospital, Kurt has gone on to receive rehabilitation care and continues to recover. She and family members met with Abràmoff a few weeks after the event to express their gratitude and reflect on the incident.

“I want to share with you my sincere thanks for saving my mother on the plane...You truly did save her life. Without your willingness to use your skills and God-given compassion for the human life, I would have been planning my mother's funeral,” says Kramer.

“The Delta pilot, flight attendants, and Tricia (nurse) were extremely effective, helpful, and knowledgeable during the entire time. I am very thankful I was able to play a role in saving her life,” states Abràmoff.

Reflecting on the situation, he adds, “Whether you’re on an airplane or in any other public setting, it is important to be aware of your surroundings and if you are able to take CPR training, I always encourage it.”

Larita Kurt and Michael Abramoff

Larita Kurt (left) continues to recover after Dr. Michael Abràmoff provided life-saving medical intervention on her during an airplane flight.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020