Brittany Mateiro was on board a flight from Newark, New Jersey, to Phoenix, Arizona, when she fell asleep. The next thing she knew, she was being wheeled off the plane on a stretcher somewhere in Oklahoma.
At just 28 years old, Brittany had suffered a sudden cardiac arrest while 35,000 feet in the air. If it weren’t for the quick actions of the flight crew and fellow passengers, she might not have lived. Now, she and her rescuers are urging others to learn CPR, because it could save someone’s life someday.
Brittany was traveling with some friends to a bachelorette party when the incident occurred. She is a healthy person with no known medical issues, so she’s not sure why her heart suddenly stopped beating mid-flight. Thankfully, she was surrounded by the perfect people to help her out.
When Brittany started showing seizure-like symptoms in her seat, her friends called out for help. Dr. Kashif Chaudhry, a cardiac electrophysiologist at UPMC in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, happened to be on board with his wife, Naila Shereen, who is also a doctor. When they heard the announcement asking for medical professionals to assist in an emergency, the couple rushed to Brittany’s side. They were joined by another cardiologist who happened to be on board, and they quickly divided tasks to help their patient.
First, they moved the unresponsive young woman to the plane’s aisle. While Naila communicated with a hospital on the ground, Dr. Kashif checked for a pulse – and found nothing. He immediately started CPR, or chest compressions, to restart her heart. The other doctor rushed to get the plane’s automated external defibrillator from the first-aid kit.
When they applied the device to Brittany’s chest, the machine told them not to shock her. The doctors knew that meant her heart was starting to beat again on its own. Within 90 seconds of starting CPR, Brittany’s heart restarted and she began to come around.
“She had a great pulse. It was an amazing pulse,” Dr. Chaudhry recalled. “She had no idea what was going on, she didn’t know where she was, she was completely disoriented.”
The doctors stayed by Brittany’s side as the plane made an emergency landing in Oklahoma City.
“I have one slight memory of looking over and seeing a woman I wasn’t familiar with holding my hand,” she said, referring to Naila’s comforting presence.
Brittany is now going through tests to make sure her heart is in good shape. Both she and Dr. Chaudhry hope that sharing this story encourages everyone to learn CPR today. “It’s so crazy. You always hear about CPR your whole life… but in the back of your head, you’re like, ‘Oh, I’m not really ever going to use this,'” said Brittany. “I just can’t believe that it saved my life.”
“Anyone could have done this,” added Dr. Chaudhry. Without intervention, up to 90 percent of patients will die before reaching the hospital. Knowing how to perform CPR could literally make the difference between life and death for these patients. Dr. Chaudhry says some worry they’ll actually hurt a patient by starting chest compressions, but it’s better to try than not to try.
“It is important to realize that the benefit from doing CPR far outweighs the harm that you could do someone who does not need chest compressions,” he said. “The rule is: If there’s no sign of life, you start CPR. If there’s any sign of life, you stop CPR.”
Brittany says she’s going to become an advocate for CPR after her traumatic event! Hopefully when people hear about such a young person suffering cardiac arrest out of the blue, they’ll decide to take a CPR course as well.
Share this story to spread awareness about learning CPR!
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