Health Team

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

Posted April 4, 2012 5:21 p.m. EDT
Updated April 5, 2012 6:27 a.m. EDT

— 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.

"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.