Mile-high mission: NYC EMTs save patient mid flight

New York Daily News | March 29, 2021

For EMS workers on the front lines of New York City’s coronavirus battle, the job of coming to the rescue never ends.

Not even on an airplane thousands of miles from home.

EMT Oren Barzilay and his colleagues thought they were getting a little break from emergency duty when they boarded a JetBlue flight Sunday night en route to California for several days of training.

On the agenda were three days of seminars and workshops on peer support and post traumatic stress syndrome that they hope to share with first responders who have had the most challenging year of their careers.

But before their flight could even land at Los Angeles International Airport, a flight attendant put a distress call out over the intercom for a medic to assist an elderly passenger who was having trouble breathing.

“We weren’t even sitting together,” Barzilay said of his paramedic partners, Andria Connell and Krystal Hayes. “We all just stood up and volunteered our assistance.”

After they made their way to the front of the plane and stepped past several passengers, they quickly determined that the elderly woman’s oxygen saturation level was dangerously low.

Once they got permission to tap into the aircraft’s albuterol supply, they administered the drug through an inhaler and the woman’s levels were back on track before the plane began its descent.

They avoided an emergency landing. A local medical team met the woman at the gate.

Barzilay, president of Local 2507, which represents EMS workers, said the in-flight emergency underscored the demands of the job peer support and PTSD training.

“A lot of members are showing signs.” Barzilay said. “During COVID we have seen more death in one year than some people see their whole careers.”

Barzilay said three of his colleagues have committed suicide in the last 12 months.

“We all just need the support and to ensure our members are properly taken care of,” said Connell, who doubles as a mental health counselor.

Despite the stress, the job has its rewards.

“When we got her off the plane, she looked at us and put her hand on her chest and said, “Thank you,’” said Hayes, an EMS lieutenant. “That was enough for me. Most of the time we never get a chance for people to say thank you.”