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Union College Students Leap to Action in Mid-Air Medical Emergency

stock photo of airplane landing at sunset

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When a fellow passenger had a medical emergency on their flight, international rescue and relief (IRR) senior Allen Stafford and junior Christian Thomas, students at Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska, sprung into action.

Stafford and Thomas were flying home to Washington State for Thanksgiving break when, two hours from their destination, the EMT training they received as part of their degree was put to the test.

“I was reading my book, and I looked up and saw a woman collapsed in the aisle,” said Stafford. “I got up to check if she was okay. While I was checking her pulse, she came to.”

The flight attendants requested assistance from any EMTs or doctors on the flight. Thomas, along with an emergency room doctor who was also on the flight, joined Stafford at the woman’s side.

“The woman started turning blue from lack of oxygen, so we gave her oxygen and the flight attendants had other passengers move so she could lie down,” said Stafford. “The doctor asked me to start an IV. Thankfully, I had been teaching a basic IV course to the pre-health professional society at Union the weekend before, so I was confident I could do it well.”

Stafford learned to start an intravenous line in his Advanced Care for EMS Providers class. “We had to do 10 practice sticks on a mannequin and 15 successful sticks on real people for that class to make sure we knew how to do it correctly,” he said. “In the IRR program, we train how we treat.”

Union college students Christian Thomas and Stafford

Union College students Allen Stafford and Christian Thomas; photo taken from the Union College website

“There is this certain relief that you have when you know that you’ve been trained well and you know how to deal with almost anything that is thrown at you,” said Thomas. “I feel like IRR significantly prepared me to deal with situations like this.”

Stafford and Thomas monitored the passenger until the plane began descending when they had to return to their seats for safety reasons. After the plane landed, the doctor handed her off to the medical personnel that met them at the gate.

“I don’t think our being on that flight was a coincidence,” said Thomas. “I believe that we are placed in positions where we can best help serve others and where we can glorify God, and I was just grateful that I could do that on that plane.”