Health Team

Duke doctor on RDU-bound jet flies into action to save baby

Posted April 4, 2012
Updated April 5, 2012

— Airline personnel are trained to handle in-flight emergencies, but sometimes those emergencies fall outside their expertise. On a flight last week from London to Raleigh, a Duke University doctor on board flew into action to save an unconscious infant girl.

On March 27, as American Airlines flight 173 was soaring high above the Atlantic Ocean, a Morrisville woman heard a passenger near the front of the plane start screaming. 

"It sounded like, 'My baby's not breathing! My baby's not breathing!'" Angela Tucker said.

A flight attendant on the plane took to the intercom for help. 

"(The attendant) got on the intercom and asked for a medical doctor," Tucker said.

Duke radiation oncologist Dr. David Brizel sprang to his feet. 

"I must have said I was a doctor, but I truly don't remember that," he said.

It all happened quickly, Brizel said, and he immediately approached the hysterical woman and her child. Dr. David Brizel Duke doctor saves unconscious infant on airplane

"I just said, as forcefully as I knew how, to give me the baby," he said. "Next thing I knew, I was holding an infant that was unconscious."

The child's skin was blue, her body limp, Brizel recalled, but his medical training kicked into high gear. Remembering the "ABCs of life" – airway, breathing, circulation – he turned the baby over, cradled her head in his hand and gave several thrusts to her back.

Worried that a foreign body, such as mucous or food, was blocking the baby's airway, Brizel said a little prayer. 

"I was quite scared, to be very honest with you," he said. "I said, 'Dear God, please do not let this baby die in my arms.'"

After the fourth round of back thrusts, Brizel felt a tiny breath of air on his thumb and a slight twitch of the child's muscles.

"Then she started to cry, and I lost it," Brizel said. "I said, 'These are are the best tears I've ever heard in my life.'"

When Tucker got off the plane, she said, the baby seemed active and healthy. She took a photo of Brizel to remember the hero on board.

"Being a mom myself, (I know) just how terrifying that would have been," she said. "I was just really grateful that he was there."

Brizel said he heard indirectly that the baby is doing fine. WRAL Health Team was unable to locate the girl's mother.

CPR training, offered through organizations like the American Red Cross, can help anyone administer the emergency service Brizel provided. For more information, visit the website or call 1-800-RED-CROSS.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • pdolan6 Apr 11, 2012

    Awesome story! Yes WRAL, please put more uplifting stories up. We see too much misery and dispair in the news daily as it is! We need to be reminded that there still is good in the world!!
    April 10, 2012 11:17 a.m.

    I agree...good job

  • sparks Apr 11, 2012

    this is GREAT news. so glad we still have medical professionals and others who are not frozen by fear of malpractice, litigation and reprisals for taking action. Congrats to this physician for his skill, bravery and quick thinking.....

  • Kelondris Apr 10, 2012

    Awesome story! Yes WRAL, please put more uplifting stories up. We see too much misery and dispair in the news daily as it is! We need to be reminded that there still is good in the world!!

  • f6rider Apr 6, 2012

    What a great story, thanks for taking such swift action Dr. Brizel and for caring and getting involved!

    Also thanks WRAL for bringing us this story, we need to see more like this. Far too many bad and sad stories in the news today.

  • hendurrox Apr 5, 2012

    Way to go doctor Brizel, you not only save lives at work but any where you go, God blessed you and the ones that come incontact with you.

  • hatterasgirl Apr 5, 2012

    I love reading positive stories like this!!! God put this man on this flight!!

  • Supie Apr 5, 2012

    of course the crew and doctor were wonderful.. why do some people feel a need to publicly criticize success? if this story doesn't prove the folly in that, nothing will. And a perfect week to point out how that folly lives in us, even today.

  • mediawatcher Apr 5, 2012

    We were on this flight returning from vacation. The flight attendant very calmly asked for a physician and we saw several people get up and go towards the front. We never knew what was going on until we saw this news article. The reason they didn't land early was because we were over the ocean at the time and I assume the situation was in hand before there was an opportunity to land early. However, upon landing, it was announced that disembarking would be delayed in order to get off individuals who needed attention. I think the flight attendants handled the situation perfectly.

  • aquamarine46 Apr 5, 2012

    bluesboy58...........I know who you are, and everyone is glad he saved your life, with a great deal of help from the Great Physician!!!

  • anneonymousone Apr 5, 2012

    This article touched my heart. I'm very happy for the little girl and her family, and it brought tears to my eyes to know that a doctor who confronts death every day is STILL able to be moved to tears by the healthy cry of an infant whose life he just saved. That's truly lovely.

    The comments by his patients only affirm that he not only has a fine brain, but that it is solidly connected to a remarkable heart.