Aussie nurse saves life on El Al flight

Kate Kessel in Israel this week. Photo: Noel Kessel

IT’S not the usual way to get a business class upgrade. But then, it’s not every day you’re called upon to keep an ailing fellow passenger alive.

Kate Kessel, a registered nurse at Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital, was four hours into a flight from Bangkok to Tel Aviv with husband Noel, a former AJN photographer, and children when an Israeli man in his 70s a few rows behind them became seriously ill.

With no doctor on board and the prospect of the plane having to make an emergency landing if his condition did not improve, it was left to Kessel to ameliorate the situation.

“They pretty much just handed it over to me,” she told The AJN.

“I had to medicate him, I had to do all his vital signs, I had to try and speak to him through a translator and work out how he was feeling and what he was experiencing and what led to the situation,” she said.

Using equipment from the plane’s medical kit, she checked his blood sugar and blood pressure, both of which were “astronomical”, she said.

She learned that the man had left both his insulin and hypertension medication behind at a Bangkok hotel.

After liaising with a doctor in Israel via radio in the plane’s cockpit, Kessel administered metformin – a drug usually used to treat type 2 diabetes – from the plane’s medical kit.

The doctor advised her to wait half an hour and then again check the man’s vital signs, with the instruction to turn back and land in Mumbai if there was no improvement.

“It was really touch and go for quite a while there and I felt quite a bit of a weight on my shoulders,” Kessel said.

Fortunately, she said, the man’s blood sugar and blood pressure eventually came down just enough.

“He was out of that really bad danger zone and that was a relief.” 

A decision was taken to move the man into business class due there being more room and Kessel joined him there to keep monitoring his condition.

“So I got upgraded in a way,” she said.

Paramedics then met the man – who expressed his gratitude – as soon as the plane landed at Ben Gurion Airport.

“I didn’t really feel like at the time I was doing anything too heroic but I suppose in the aftermath, it would have been pretty serious if I wasn’t there,” Kessel said.

“I’m glad that I could help.”