An off-duty doctor sprung into action on a long-haul flight when a woman sitting next to him suddenly went into labour on the plane.
27-year-old second-year urology resident Dr Sij Hemal successfully delivered baby Jake after his mother’s contractions started a week early on December 17.
For Dr Hemal, who works at Cleveland Clinic’s Glickman Urological and Kidney Institute, the eight hour Air France flight from Paris to New York was the second leg of his journey back to the States from India.
He just so happened to be sitting next to a French paediatrician, Dr Susan Shepherd, on the flight.
Dr Hemal was watching a film and waiting for a glass of champagne when a fellow passenger, Toyin Ogundipe, went into labour.
“I was pretty tired from jet lag,” said Dr Hemal, who’d celebrated his best friend’s wedding the day before. “I thought I’d just have a drink and fall asleep. As it turned out, I’m glad I didn’t drink anything.”
41-year-old Ogundipe is a banker who lives between the US and Nigeria - she went into labour early while travelling with her four-year-old daughter, Amy.
Unfortunately, the cabin crew couldn’t perform an emergency landing because the plane was flying over the southern coast of Greenland and a diversion would’ve taken two hours.
But luckily both Dr Hemal and Dr Shepherd were on hand.
Ogundipe was moved up to first class (which was thankfully largely empty), and both doctors went with her.
“Her contractions were about 10 minutes apart, so the paediatrician and I began to monitor her vital signs and keep her comfortable,” explains Dr. Hemal.
But all they had by way of tools was the plane’s scarce medical kit.
As Ogundipe’s contractions increased to just two minutes apart, it quickly became clear she would have to have the baby on board.
Fortunately, although Dr Hemal’s area of expertise is urology, he’d delivered seven babies as part of his medical training.
“We’re trained to stay calm and think clearly in emergency situations,” he said. “I just tried to think ahead to what might go wrong, and come up with a creative solution.”
And the calm manner of the doctors ensured Ogundipe stayed relaxed too: “I was relaxed because I knew I was in safe hands,” she said. “They did everything a doctor or midwife would have done if I was in the labour room in the hospital. Even better, if you ask me.”
30 minutes of pushing later, Ogundipe’s baby boy Jake was born. Dr Hemal removed the placenta and tied off the umbilical cord with a surgical clamp and a shoestring before cutting it off with scissors.
After Jake’s health was assessed by Dr Shepherd, he soon began nursing on his mother.
As soon as the plane touched down in New York, Ogundipe, Amy and Jake headed straight to hospital but were released later that day. She’s now recovering with family in New Jersey.
But Dr Hemal’s journey still wasn’t over - he had another flight to Cleveland to catch, which, luckily, was less eventful.
Since the unusual labour, Dr Hemal says Air France has sent him a travel voucher as well as a bottle of champagne to make up for the glass he never received on board.
He, Dr Shepherd and Ogundipe have stayed in touch too.
“So much could have gone wrong, but it didn’t. Being on that particular flight, sitting next to a paediatrician… it’s like it was destiny,” says Dr. Hemal. “Thanks to God, everything worked out.”