On international flight, Kendall EMT puts skills to life-saving use

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 16 May 2015 at 12:00 am

Photo by Tom Rivers – Jim Barrett, an emergency medical technician for the Kendall Fire Department, also works as a senior engineer for a company that manufactures hospital sterilization equipment. He used his life-savings skills as an EMT during a recent flight in the Middle East.

KENDALL – Jim Barrett has been on many long airplane trips and the veteran emergency medical technician will let the flight crews know he is an EMT and can help “just in case” someone may be feeling sick.

Almost every flight, Barrett can enjoy the trip without being prompted into action.

On May 7, Barrett was pressed into service when a flight attendant fell ill during a 14-hour flight from Washington, D.C. to Dubai. Barrett examined her and believed she was suffering from an acute appendicitis. The attendant was in severe pain, doubled over on the floor of the plane. Barrett didn’t think she could make it to the final destination before her appendix ruptured.

“If it bursts, there is infection in her abdominal cavity,” Barrett said today. “It would have been very dire. I don’t know if she would have survived that. We still had five hours to go.”

Barrett, 53, insisted to the flight crew the plane should be diverted so the flight attendant could be treated. Another medical professional on board confirmed the diagnosis, Barrett said.

The pilots at United consulted a medical command on ground, and those personnel suggested Tylenol and anti-nauseous pills. They believed the flight attendant could make it to Dubai, Barrett said.

But Barrett didn’t think the woman could last much longer. She was in extreme pain. He convinced the crew to divert and land at Ankara, the capitol of Turkey.

Turkish paramedics met the plane almost immediately after it landed and the stewardess was rushed to a local hospital.

Barrett and about 250 passengers on the 777 airplane stayed overnight in Ankara. The next morning they returned to the plane and the crew told Barrett the woman had the surgery, with doctors saying she only had 5 to 10 minutes to spare.

The woman had the operation in Turkey, and has since returned to the United States, Barrett said.

He has been an EMT for 35 years, starting when he was 18. He works as an electrical engineer, and is currently a senior engineer for Getinge, a company in Henrietta that makes hospital sterilization equipment.

Barrett travels to the Middle East, a big market for Getinge. He helps lead training for company employees and its distributors on maintaining and repairing the equipment.

Barrett said he is grateful the pilots diverted the plane so the flight attendant could get the needed medical care.

“I’ve had people get sick on planes before but I’ve never actually told the captain, ‘You must divert this plane,'” Barrett said. “We had a really good outcome from this. We did the right thing.”

Barrett said his effort on the plane is “all in a day’s work for a Kendall firefighter and EMT.”

His son Alex, 17, is a Kendall junior firefighter, and Barrett serves as advisor to the group.

He flew back home from the Middle East on Friday, with many of the same crew members from the flight on May 7. Barrett said he was warmly greeted by the crew.

“They said they were real happy they landed the plane,” he said.