Training Helps Save Life In-Flight

By Ron Fanfair, Toronto Police Service Published: 11:55 a.m. September 5, 2014

Lifesaving humanitarian assistance, high above the sky over Russia, briefly interrupted Constable Ming Li’s Hong Kong honeymoon with his new wife, Florence.

Two men speak to each other in a treed area
Constable Ming Li, and friend, Ramon Goomber, talk about the help they delivered to a man on a plane

Last May, the couple were on a Cathay Pacific flight to celebrate their marriage with the groom’s family at a banquet and spend some quality time together when a passenger suffered a heart attack.

The direct flight departed Toronto on May 18 and Li estimates they were about halfway into the 16-hour journey en route to Hong Kong.

“The plane was full, and we were sitting in the middle, when I noticed that an elderly man across the aisle from us was complaining to the attendants that he was not well,” recalled Li, who joined the Service 18 months ago and is assigned to  13 Division. “He was holding his chest and seemed unable to breathe properly.”

An Australian doctor, Dave Monks, answered the call for anyone with medical training to come to the man’s aid.

“The doctor immediately started pumping his chest while the victim’s wife was calling his name in Cantonese and crying,” said Li, who is fluent in Cantonese. “At that point, I woke up my best man, who was also travelling with us, and we offered our help.”

Ramon Goomber, a pharmacist and University of Toronto faculty member, and Li have First Aid and CPR certification.

“We told the doctor who we were and what we could do and he asked us to give him a hand,” said Li. “The victim was a bit of a big guy but we managed to drag him to an emergency aisle where there was more space for us to put him flat on his back and work to save his life.  He had a bit of a pulse which was very weak, so we shocked him with the plane’s defibrillator and injected him with adrenaline shots.

“I spent close to 45 minutes giving him CPR and communicating a little with him in Cantonese before the plane made an emergency landing in Beijing where the man was taken off and rushed to hospital,” said Li, of the exhausting effort.”

Li later learned from the Aussie doctor, who accompanied the man to hospital, that he survived after losing his pulse 38 times. Dr. Monks published an article in the British Medical Journal about the incident.

Dr. Monks told “This guy was extremely fortunate to have this team there… These guys just happened to be on the plane and even with the [basic medical skills] they had, they were able to perform a quite dramatic and sophisticated critical care resuscitation.”

He is very lucky and I am glad that I was able to use my training to help save his life

He said the episode shows the importance of keeping defibrillators on passenger planes and training people in first aid.

“He is very lucky and I am glad that I was able to use my training to help save his life,” said Li, who is assigned to 13 Division.

Despite being bruised and exhausted at the end of the ordeal, Goomber shared Li’s sense of satisfaction.

“I am in health care and this is something I do, but you never expect to do it on an airplane,” said Goomber who has been a close friend of Li for the past 11 years. “We were on our knees for almost two hours in a cramped space, without seat belts. and having to avoid three oxygen tanks that came barreling down the aisle towards us when that plane landed in Beijing. It was quite an experience, but it was worth it.”

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