Barton ER nurse helps save woman on flight to Hawaii |

Barton ER nurse helps save woman on flight to Hawaii

Submitted to the Tribune
Daryl Braga reunites with Karen Allen, victim of heart attack on flight to Hawaii.

Traveling on an airplane halfway across the Pacific ocean is a less than ideal place to have a medical emergency. But when experiencing a massive heart attack, the stars aligned for Karen Allen, resulting in the best-case scenario and a chance of survival.

Daryl Braga, of South Lake Tahoe, was seated with his wife and daughter on a flight from Sacramento to Maui. He was watching an in-flight movie when a flight attendant ran by his aisle seat, alerting him to an emergency. Unlike in the movies, there was no overhead page asking for medical personnel, but he knew to go to the action and let them know of his qualifications.

Braga, is an emergency department charge nurse at Barton Health. As a charge nurse, Braga supervises the nursing staff in the emergency department, and is responsible for staffing, patient assignments, and communication between staff and physicians, as well as providing emergency care to patients. Braga has been a nurse for 14 years, and joined Barton in 2013.

When he arrived on scene, Allen, unresponsive, had collapsed in the aisle on her way to the restroom. She was cold, pale, and not breathing. 

“I’m a nurse; what can I do to help,” Braga announced. Also on the scene, and luckily aboard the plane, was vascular surgeon Dr. Aaron Baker, Roseville anesthesiologist, Dr. Brandon Winchester, and Captain Dan Nelson of the El Dorado County Fire Department. 

Braga and Nelson jumped in to perform CPR until a portable automated external defibrillator that was on the plane arrived to restart Allen’s heart. The AED analyzed and advised a shock, after which a second round of CPR was performed. She had a weak pulse, but started breathing on her own. At this point, the flight was at roughly the halfway point to their destination, two hours from Maui and a hospital.

“The assembled medical team worked well together as a unit to perform the rescue in a critical timeline and the flight attendants were amazing, assisting with medical equipment and oxygen,” said Braga. “We used experience and a bit of ingenuity to give her the best care possible; [we] couldn’t easily get a stethoscope reading with the white noise of the airplane, so Dr. Winchester used his watch to get an EKG reading and [we] used a carabiner I had on my carry-on bag to rig the IV fluids from the overhead baggage storage bin.”

For the rest of the flight, Allen, who was traveling alone, was kept comfortable in a stable condition until paramedics intercepted her once on the ground in Maui where she was transferred to a hospital. Braga, Baker, Winchester, and Nelson went their separate ways, exchanging a verbal high-five for their heroic efforts in saving Allen’s life. 

The whole team reunited a week later at Kaiser Permanente in Roseville, where Baker and Winchester work on the medical staff. Braga joined virtually from an offsite location during a break from his shift at the Emergency Department at Barton Memorial Hospital. Allen was incredibly grateful to her in-flight dream team, to whom she expressed deep appreciation, “It was phenomenal that I had everyone there that I needed – it was meant to be! You all were just so wonderful.”

“Saving lives is what we do everyday in the emergency department, but it’s not everyday that I can offer my experience and passion for great critical care in public scenarios,” said Braga. “I’m so happy to have been there along with the others to quickly assemble a highly experienced team who gave Karen the chance to get off of that flight and continue her life.”

According to the American Heart Association, more than 350,000 cardiac arrests occur outside of the hospital each year; tragically, only about 10% of victims survive.

Source: Barton Health

Daryl Braga, (on screen) poses with Cpt. Dan Nelson, Dr Brandon Winchester, Karen Allen, and Dr. Aaron Baker.

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