It was a miracle at 40,000 feet. Lavinia “Lavi” Mounga was on a Delta Airlines flight above the Pacific Ocean, traveling from Utah to Hawaii, when she unexpectedly gave birth to a baby at 29 weeks — and didn’t even know she was pregnant.
Thankfully, numerous medical professionals were on board, and they quickly jumped in to help her and her premature baby. Hawaii Pacific Health Family Medicine physician Dr. Dale Glenn and NICU nurses Lani Bamfield, Amanda Beeding, and Mimi Ho were halfway through their flight when they heard calls for emergency medical help.
“I’ve experienced this before and usually they’re pretty clear asking if there is a doctor on board,” Glenn said in a press release. “This call was not like this and it was fairly urgent. I let the flight attendant know that I’m a physician and she said we have a woman having a baby, so I hurried over to see what I could do.”
Bamfield, Beeding, and Ho were already caring for Mounga and her son, whom she named Raymond. “We were about halfway through the flight and we heard someone call out for medical help. I went to see what was going on and see her there holding a baby in her hands, and it’s little,” Bamfield said, with Ho adding, “That definitely means something to us because we work in the NICU.”
The tools they normally are able to use in a NICU weren’t available, so the team had to work together and improvise to help Raymond while on the flight. “We used shoelaces, a sock (for a head warmer), plastic bags, microwaved water bottles (to raise temperature), an Apple Watch (which worked surprisingly well as a heart monitor), and an oxygen mask we made ourselves to get baby stabilized, keep him warm and help him breathe until he was safe enough to wrap him against moms chest,” Glenn wrote on his Facebook page.
Even with their ingenuity, caring for Mounga and her premature son was difficult.
“I don’t know how a patient gets so lucky as to have three neonatal intensive care nurses onboard the same flight when she is in emergency labor, but that was the situation we were in,” Glenn said in the press release. “The great thing about this was the teamwork. Everybody jumped in together and everyone helped out. Basically, you need somebody to watch the mom too because we have two patients, not just one. So someone’s got to help cut the cord, someone’s got to help deliver the placenta, we’ve got to check vital signs on mom. Meanwhile we’re trying to resuscitate baby, make sure baby’s breathing, get baby warmed up. That’s a lot of work to do, and we’re all trying to work in a very small, confined space in an airplane, which is pretty challenging. But the teamwork was great.”
Three hours after delivery, they finally landed in Honolulu, where Glenn said a miraculous thing finally happened. “The pivotal moment came when after landing we moved mom and baby into a wheelchair and he woke up and then, finally, for the first time he cried out loud,” he wrote. “The whole plane applauded.”
A few days later, Mounga was able to reunite with Glenn, Bamfield, Beeding, and Ho. “We all just teared up,” Ho said. “She called us family and said we’re all his aunties, and it was so great to see them.”
Since then, Mounga has been discharged, while Raymond has remained in the NICU. She was only supposed to be visiting Hawaii for vacation, but it will always have a meaningful place in her heart now.
“It has been very overwhelming, and I’m just so lucky that there were three NICU nurses and a doctor on the plane to help me, and help stabilize him and make sure he was ok for the duration of the flight,” Mounga said in the press release. “The experience here has been so good. Everybody’s so nice and the aloha spirit you feel here is very different from the mainland. It just feels comforting and everyone’s willing to help and always checking in on us.”
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