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New doctor tested at 30,000 feet

Young doctor responds to mid-air medical emergency.

Posted: April 24, 2008 3:31 p.m.
Updated: June 25, 2008 5:02 a.m.
A local doctor-in-training got his first brush with a real-world emergency earlier this month when another passenger on his cross-country flight unexpectedly fell ill.

Micah Berry, a 1995 Hart High School graduate, was traveling from Boston to Los Angeles on Delta Airlines on April 2 when he heard the dreaded announcement over the plane's PA system: "Is there a doctor on board?"

Berry, 30, had just finished his final year of medical school at Harvard University and was headed home to start his residency at the University of Southern California. He was concerned about the passenger but hesitant to respond at first, despite his qualifications.

"I was a bit reluctant because I'm a new physician," he said. "But eventually I walked up to the flight
attendant and said I could be of assistance."

Berry and another doctor on board, a cardiologist, sprang into action. They assessed the man and determined that he was probably having a stroke. He was able to talk, but could not walk, and had decreased strength on his left side.

"We did a basic workup," he said. "We did brief physical exam, checked his vital signs, and gave him oxygen. We were able to stabilize him, and make him comfortable."

Considering the patient's likely diagnosis and the length of the flight, they told the captain that an
emergency landing was probably necessary.

"When you're having a stroke, your chances of recovery are much higher if you receive a certain drug within the first three hours," Berry said. "Since we were only one-third of the way through a six-hour flight, we told the captain we had to land soon."

The plane quickly diverted to Chicago, where the man was immediately taken to a local hospital. The pilot then continued on to Los Angeles.

Once he was back on terra firma, it was kudos all around. Delta gave him a big "thank you," a free
lunch, and a pile of free drink vouchers. Fellow passengers lined up to shake his hand and congratulate him. However, Berry was modest about his actions, and downplayed the "hero" label.

"It was a bit nerve-wracking, but in the end I didn't do all that much," he said. "But it was kind of ironic that the first time I got to act like a physician and have the experience of decision-making as a doctor was on a plane, returning from medical school."

Though he proved his mettle under pressure, Berry, who intends to become an orthopedic surgeon, said he doesn't plan to switch specialties anytime soon.

"I enjoy the emergency part of medicine, but I think I'll stick with orthopedic surgery," he chuckled.


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