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‘Closest thing to a miracle’: NorCal health care workers on same flight where woman collapsed

<i>KCRA</i><br/>An Auburn woman suffered a massive heart attack on board a Hawaii-bound flight over the Pacific Ocean in January. On Wednesday
An Auburn woman suffered a massive heart attack on board a Hawaii-bound flight over the Pacific Ocean in January. On Wednesday

By Michelle Bandur

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    ROSEVILLE, California (KCRA) — It’s a life-saving story straight from the skies.

An Auburn woman suffered a massive heart attack on board a Hawaii-bound flight over the Pacific Ocean in January. On Wednesday, Karen Allen was reunited with the health care professionals who were on board that same flight and also happen to work at Kaiser Permanente Roseville.

“Karen’s case is truly the closest thing to a miracle that I’ve experienced in my 20-year medical career,” Dr. Brandon Winchester said.

Winchester is an anesthesiologist who was on the same flight heading to Maui as Allen and a colleague, Dr. Aaron Baker. Baker is a vascular surgeon.

“I was so glad the stars aligned that day to take care of her with all the right people at the right time,” Baker said.

Also on board, Barton Health emergency room nurse Daryl Braga and Capt. Dan Nelson with the El Dorado Hills Fire Department.

“This really was a reaffirmation of why we went into medicine,” Winchester said.

Allen was on her way to the Big Island with a layover in Maui when she said boarded the flight not feeling well but didn’t think anything of it. She said she got up to stretch her legs and headed to the bathroom but it was occupied.

“I sat on an armrest and then I was out and on the floor,” Allen said. “That’s when they came to save my life.”

Baker said his wife, who is a nurse, alerted him that something didn’t seem right with a fellow passenger. He looked down the aisle and saw her on the floor, “completely lifeless.”

“That’s when a flight attendant and I pulled her to a flat position inside the aisle and made the quick assessment to start CPR,” he said.

Nelson and Braga jumped in to help and used a portable defibrillator that was on the plane to restart her heart. They resuscitated her and got her breathing again. The flight was already past the halfway point and about two hours from Maui and a hospital.

“We were a long way from shore and a long way from cardiac intervention,” Winchester said.

They came together for a more proper introduction Wednesday and visited for the first time since they took life-saving measures on Allen. They hugged and shared stories about the incident.

“So nice to see you again,” Allen said. “I made it again, thank goodness.”

Allen, 69, who said she’s active and doesn’t have any health issues, suffered a massive heart attack, commonly known as a widow maker.

“Someone at the hospital undergoing CPR has a 5% chance of surviving that event,” Baker said. “The fact that we were doing CPR for someone at 30,000 feet two hours from the nearest hospital and got her through it was quite remarkable.”

Winchester believes a higher power put the medical professionals on Allen’s flight.

“For you to not only survive it and look as amazing as you are is truly nothing short of an Act of God,” he said.

Allen spent six days in a Maui hospital, including the intensive care unit, after doctors implanted a stent during heart surgery. She said she plans to resume her Hawaii trip once she gets stronger.

“They didn’t expect me to make it and you guys absolutely saved my life,” she told her heroes.

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