Dr. Aisha Khatib was hoping to catch some shut-eye on the final leg of her multi-stop plane voyage from Toronto to Entebbe, Uganda.
But the Canadian doctor says those plans were dashed when a little bundle of joy decided to arrive mid-flight.
About an hour after taking off from Doha, Qatar, last month, Khatib said she was settling into her seat when she was roused by an announcement asking if there were any medical personnel on board.
The University of Toronto professor, who specializes in travel medicine, said she flagged down a flight attendant who ushered her through rows of sleeping passengers toward the back of the plane.
“I’m thinking, oh my gosh, someone’s had a heart attack,” Khatib said. “I just see this woman with her head toward the aisle and her feet towards the window … and the baby’s coming out.”
Khatib said she squeezed in between the seats, put on a pair of gloves and got to work as her mind raced thinking about what equipment she would need to ensure a safe delivery.
Khatib said a nurse appeared at her side, and she asked her to track down a medical kit. A pediatrician volunteered to join the makeshift obstetric team as they delivered the baby at cruising altitude, she said.
“The baby came out and was lying down on the seat and crying vigorously,” she said. “I said to mom, ‘Are you OK?’ And she seemed pretty calm. I think she was more in shock than anything.”
They cut the umbilical cord and swaddled the baby in airport blankets as the pediatrician check its vitals, while Khatib continued to care for the mother during the final stages of labour, she said.
“I’ve got my back against the window, and I’ve got this woman’s legs pretty much strangling me, and I’m thinking, OK, this is going to be messy,” said Khatib.
“There’s a lot of things that can go wrong at this point. For moms, you can have postpartum hemorrhage or bleeding if the placenta isn’t delivered fully. The baby can have breathing issues or all sorts of things.”
Khatib asked the mother about her medical history. She said the woman told her she was roughly 35 weeks pregnant, and didn’t realize she was in labour until she started having severe abdominal pain during the flight.
Thankfully, the rest of the delivery went smoothly, said Khatib, and once she was confident both the woman and her baby were stable, she told the new mother: “Congratulations, it’s a girl.”
“The entire plane erupted with clapping and started cheering,” said Khatib, who estimates the medical emergency lasted about 20 minutes. “I totally forgot I was on a plane and everyone’s watching this.”
The mother and newborn were escorted to a more private spot on the plane to recover and bond, with Khatib and her colleagues checking their vitals every half hour as the plane continued en route to Entebbe for another five hours, she said.
By that point, Khatib said she wrote off her hopes of getting some sleep on the plane, figuring the mother needed the rest more than she did.
“I was babysitting very happily and cuddling the baby,” she said, adding that the flight attendants were very attentive to the extra passenger. “That baby definitely got a lot of love on that flight.”
Khatib said the mother told her she would name the baby “Miracle Aisha” in her honour, and in return, she gifted the newborn a gold necklace with her first name written in Arabic.
“I had to give it to my namesake, so that down the road, she knows where she came from,” said Khatib. “Dr. Aisha delivered her 35,000 feet in the air.”
—Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press