Recently when on a return flight back to Boise from a Hawaiian island vacation, the pilot came on over the loud speaker asking if there were any medical professionals aboard. Andrea wasn’t expecting to take part in a medical rescue that day, however, that’s just what the recent Idaho State University nursing graduate ended up doing to conclude an already memorable Hawaiian vacation. She pressed her overhead call button after realizing she was the only clinician on the Seattle-bound flight. Andrea learned a male passenger from the Samoan Islands, who spoke very limited English, had been put on the plane with a medical problem. This patient was in unusually bad condition. The flight crew explained his ticket indicated he had a broken leg but he had weeping wounds, was severely dehydrated, pale and sweaty, and was drifting in and out of consciousness. The man was clearly in physical distress and at least one dressing on his lower leg was hampering circulation. Turned out he had 3rd degree burns over the entire leg. In Samoa they amputate instead of treat, so the passenger was going to Seattle to save his leg.
The flight crew connected Andrea with a physician on the mainland via headset. The two triaged the man and she started in on what John McRae, one of her St. Luke’s supervisors, described as “some basic stuff” with the few supplies aboard. The plane carried two needles; remember Andrea had never started a real IV, and never for a dark skinned patient, who was very ill. She was terrified, but got it with the first poke! The dehydration had complicated the IV job because the man’s veins were diminished but “she nailed it!” McRae said. After getting the fluids going, she then removed the soaked and soiled wound dressings. Andrea used towels and cloths to protect the wounds and MacGyvered the IV using a coat hanger to suspend the fluids, drafted another passenger to support the patient’s head and stayed calm while around her flight attendants scurried anxiously. “She was kind of doing some frontier medicine since they didn’t have many supplies,” McRae said. “She was running the show.” The passenger came to with the fluids. Andrea helped him for the approximately two and a half hours it took for the plane to get to Seattle and then handed him off to the paramedics, who took him to a local hospital.
“I thought it was a neat story,” McRae said when nominating Andrea for the DAISY Award, “especially since she is a new nurse and possibly saved the passenger's life.”