She was fast asleep on an overnight flight, but when she heard the announcement on the PA system, she simply couldn’t ignore it. Somebody needed assistance, and it was down to her to provide it.
Courtney Donlon is a 22-year-old nurse who stepped on board a JetBlue plane in May 2017. However, her journey from Las Vegas to Newark was set to be far from the peaceful flight she’d expected.
As the hours passed, she decided to try and get some sleep. However, it wasn’t long before Donlon was woken up. As she came round, she realized that some kind of drama was unfolding on the plane.
Flight attendants had taken to the PA system to address the passengers. As they spoke, Donlon knew that she could be of use. It turned out that someone had been taken ill on the plane and consequently needed assistance.
Donlon subsequently didn’t waste any time alerting the crew that she was a nurse. Which was just as well, because by this point the patient was in real trouble, urgently requiring medical help. So, it was time to put all her training into practice.
First of all, Donlon introduced herself to the stricken female passenger. “I told her I was Courtney and I worked at Robert Wood Johnson [University Hospital, in New Brunswick,] and what kind of floor I worked on, so she would start to trust me a little bit,” Donlon recalled in an interview with ABC.
Then, it was time to assess how the woman was doing. “Right off the bat, you could see that the patient was wide eyed. She could feel something bad was about to happen,” the nurse explained.
Before long, it was clear to Donlon that the 57-year-old woman was having a heart attack. Although they were on a plane with very limited supplies, the nurse was able to remember an acronym that reminded her what to do.
That acronym was MONA, standing for morphine, oxygen, nitroglycerine and Aspirin. Unfortunately they didn’t have access to all of these things on the plane, but they did the best they could.
Firstly, she was able to provide the patient with an oxygen mask, which as a start. Next, they started asking around for some Aspirin. “So many people on board began digging in their bags for it,” Donlon said.
Thankfully, they soon managed to locate some Aspirin, which acts a blood thinner, on board. Donlon then had a bright idea. She told the patient to chew the pill so that it would enter into her bloodstream more quickly.
However, when the pain didn’t completely subside, Donlon knew that the situation was becoming more serious. She quickly decided that the woman would need further medical attention, which meant there was only one solution.
Donlon subsequently told the pilot that he needed to land the plane, so the patient could get to hospital quickly. Thankfully, the pilot was able to land the aircraft in Charleston within about 20 minutes. Paramedics were ready and waiting as they touched the ground.
The patient was scared, but Donlon held her hand as they got off the plane to meet the paramedic crew. After briefing the medics, the woman was subsequently whisked away to hospital, where she was given further treatment.
After that, the plane continued on to its final destination of Newark, one passenger light. So, what happened to the patient? Frustratingly, no one seems to be entirely sure. Nonetheless, Donlon remains hopeful.
“Maybe she will reach out to me,” the nurse said to USA Today. “I’m going to give it some time before I reach out because her condition was very serious. I want to make sure she can rest comfortably.”
In fact, Donlon had only been a nurse for eight months when she was thrown into that difficult in-flight situation. Nonetheless, she handled it calmly and pragmatically, showing a great deal of professionalism. Moreover, she’s subsequently been widely praised for her actions.
Donlon refused to let her relative lack of experience stop her from offering to help. “Once I realized I was the most qualified person on the plane and someone had to be the confident one, then I could take to the role pretty easily,” she told USA Today.
Indeed, it seems like it was in her blood to offer her assistance to the patient. She added, “If you don’t step up, it’s kind of a bystander thing. And in my family, they have always been the ones to step up and try to give care, so I felt it was natural for me to do so.”
Donlon’s calm and collected attitude on board that flight must have been instrumental in making sure the patient got safely to hospital, where emergency doctors could then take over. Whether the patient ever gets in touch or not, Donlon should be proud of her efforts that night.