A new life, at 35,000 feet

Is there a doctor on board? St. Michael’s Dr. Aisha Khatib on delivering the best care – when, where and how patients need it. Even in the sky.

A new life at 35000 feet

It had been a very long flight at an exhausting time in my life. It was back in December, and I had been working non-stop on different COVID-19 projects for St. Michael’s Hospital. I was travelling from Toronto to Entebbe, via Doha, on my way to Uganda for a tropical medicine course. About an hour into the flight, a call came over the P.A. system: “Is there a doctor on this flight?”

I rushed to the back of the plane and saw a group of people clustered around one seat. My first thought was that someone had had a heart attack. What I found, instead, was a woman lying on the seat, her head toward the aisle and feet pointing to the window – and a baby coming out of her.

Right about then, a passenger approached and told me she was a nurse. Then another woman told me she was a pediatrician. Seriously, what are the odds? We had a medical team, we had an in-flight medical kit, and we had airline blankets. The young mother-to-be was in good hands. And very soon after that, so was the baby.

The moment I said, “congratulations, it’s a girl,” the entire plane erupted in applause. I was surprised for a second, because by then I had basically forgotten we were delivering a baby on a plane – 35,000 feet above ground.

It turned out, she was a migrant worker heading home from Saudi Arabia. She had not had any prenatal care, and was not sure how far along she was – she just wanted to get home. Our little makeshift medical team stayed with her the rest of the flight. At one point, she told me she was going to name the baby after me – my first name is Aisha. And she did. The baby’s name is Miracle Aisha. I had a necklace with my name on it. I was so moved that I gave it to her for the baby, so she would always be reminded of the woman who delivered her, way up in the air.

I think about that flight a lot, about the importance of being able to deliver good medical care, wherever people in need might be, but also about the human side of it – the need we all have to receive, and to give, compassion. That woman probably got better care on that flight than she would have received had she landed before giving birth. She not only had a team of health providers attending to her, but I was able to give her advice about how to help little Miracle Aisha in the weeks and months to come. The mom is young, inexperienced and doesn’t have a lot of family support. You can imagine how terrified she was. We also set up a GoFundMe campaign for her, raising funds to give her and her baby a fair start.

One of my best memories of that day? Every single person deboarding the plane wished mom and baby well. It was beautiful to see. Some gave her money, while others offered different tokens to bless the baby. We had collectively witnessed something truly human. And special.

I will never forget that day, or Miracle Aisha.

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