9th Mission Support Command deputy surgeon saves a life during a 7-hour flight overseas

By Maj. Melodie Tafao | 9th Mission Support Command | March 20, 2020

HONOLULU —

On Jan. 27, 2020, United Airlines Flight 200 from Tamuning, Guam. to Honolulu, Hawaii, started off as any other ordinary flight across the Pacific. However, when a medical emergency emerged, this routine flight quickly “went south.”

First Officer Christopher Stokes, who is also a Colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve assigned to U.S. Indo-Pacom and Capt. Tom Roth, the pilots on the Boeing 777, were notified by the flight attendants of a medical emergency.

“We were notified that there was a life-threatening situation,” said Stokes, a 23-year veteran United Airlines pilot and former A-10 pilot in the Air Force. “The situation was grim, and the crew initially suspected the worse.”

That’s when Lt. Col. Jayne Strathe, deputy surgeon for the 9th Mission Support Command, headquartered in Honolulu, Hawaii heard the announcement and offered to help. Strathe was headed back to Honolulu from a Soldier Readiness Processing event for the U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers in Guam, where she was in charge of the medical portion. Although the SRP mission was complete, Strathe had yet another medical event to tend to.

“The patient was deaf and blind. By signing with his father, he was able to communicate that he was having chest pain,” Strathe said. “His father did not have a list of his medications, but gave his medical history as best he could. He was then put on oxygen, and we started vitals.”

During the remaining 4-5 hours of this flight, Strathe continued to work on and monitor the patient. She was key in providing accurate information to Stokes and Roth, who had to relay the situation to MEDLINK, a commercial service that assesses the situation and makes the decision to divert.

“This was a different situation than flying on the mainland,” said Stokes. When flying over the continental United States, there are opportunities to divert and temporarily land elsewhere to ensure an ill passenger receives the health and services they need in a life threatening situation. “The flight between Honolulu and Guam is a 7-plus hour flight over open water, with no medical divert bases along the route.”

Through the consistent and accurate assessment and communication from Strathe to the cockpit, the flight was authorized a priority landing in Honolulu, where they were met with civilian paramedics at the gate. Strathe’s selfless service and expertise were vital in the improvement of the patient’s health.

“He looked a lot better. He wasn’t pale and his vitals improved,” said Strathe. “The patient signed that his pain decreased.”

Stokes commended Strathe on her immediate and life-saving actions.

“Lt. Col. Strathe selflessly and professionally saved this man’s life,” Stokes said. “She expertly managed all the people, the medical equipment, drugs, communications with the crew, and was the key factor in the crew’s decisions associated with the safe and prudent conduct of the flight. Her leadership, successful outcome, professionalism, and ability to work non-stop for 4+ hours on our passenger is testament to the quality of people in the 9th Mission Support Command.”

Strathe was happy to help.

“We were lucky we were there at the right time, with the right experiences.”

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