Reserve pararescueman uses skills to save life aboard flight

A U.S. Air Force pararescueman, from the 304th Rescue Squadron applies an intravenous needle to a simulated patient during a medical training scenario on October 7, 2019. The 304th Rescue Squadron is an Air Force Reserve Command combat search and rescue squadron who deploys all over the world. (Photo by Andre Trinidad, 943rd Rescue Group.)

PORTLAND, Ore. — An Air Force Reserve technical sergeant was in the right place at the right time on Dec. 2, 2019, when a fellow passenger on a civilian flight suffered an in-flight emergency.

Tech. Sgt. Donny, a pararescue specialist with 304th Rescue Squadron in Portland, was traveling from Portland to Phoenix when he was called into action. Crewmembers aboard his flight asked passengers if anyone had medical training to assist a young woman who had fallen ill.

“At the time I didn’t know what was going on,” Donny said. “I was pretty relaxed but apparently there were two other nurses already working.”

When Donny arrived, the female patient was laid down on the seat with both nurses providing supportive care, performing physical assessments and keeping the patient awake.

“At that point, I made the assessment that they needed me to take command and control of the situation,” Donny said.

Donny is an Air Force pararescue specialist, also known as a PJ. These medically trained airmen are the only Defense Department’s elite combat forces specifically organized, trained, equipped, and postured to conduct full spectrum personnel recovery all over the world.

These highly trained experts take part in every aspect of the personnel recovery mission, and in addition to being nationally certified paramedics are also skilled parachutists, scuba divers and rock climbers.

Furthermore, Donny also spent time in the U.S. Navy, which combined with his pararescue experience prepared him to respond quickly and comfortably take control of a situation to ensure appropriate patient treatment and care was administered.

Donny directed the makeshift medical team to administer oxygen and IV fluids before moving the patient to the floor of the aircraft. At this time, he took an assessment of the medical kit provided by airline staff and directed one passenger to secure an IV bag above the patient, and another passenger to raise the patient’s feet.

“In the flight kit there was a blood pressure cuff and other electronic items to assess the patient,” Donny said. “Her blood pressure was dropping to a dangerous level.”

Because of Donny’s training, he was comfortable administering an IV during the flight, and noticed that the patient’s blood pressure somewhat stabilized with the intravenous therapy.

“We were still concerned that we might have to perform CPR if her blood pressure continued to drop,” Donny said.

Donny knew that airlines have a medical professional with whom they can communicate via telemedicine, in the event of a medical emergency.

Donny said, “I asked a flight attendant to contact medical control on the ground, and I gave them a timeline of my assessment.”

The flight attendant asked Donny if the patient was able to continue on the more than hour-long flight to Phoenix, in her condition.

“I didn’t know if she had that much time,” Donny said, “because at that point her blood pressure was still a concern.”

The flight was diverted to Reno and the patient was taken off the flight. Donny was credited with saving the woman’s life.

Donny said it was a team effort with airline staff, nearby passengers, and the two civilian nurses who first arrived to assist the female patient.

This real-life scenario is something that Donny had experienced during his medical training with the military.

“I mean, the scenario is almost right out of the book,” Donny said. “Confined space, limited resources, and a moving vehicle.”

Donny credits the military with taking an average person and giving him the skills needed to perform life-saving actions.

“I followed what military protocol taught me,” Donny said.

PJs not only undergo advanced medical rescue training, but endure arduous physical conditioning requirements. They are medically trained elite athletes. Pararescuemen are assigned to Guardian Angel or Special Tactics squadrons and take part in every aspect of the mission.

The 304th Rescue Squadron is an Air Force Reserve Command combat search and rescue squadron who deploys all over the world. The 304th is a geographically-separated unit and is part of the 943rd Rescue Group at Davis-Monthan AFB.