Flying with a baby is rarely a fun experience, but going into a flight without a baby and coming out with one must be one of the most terrifying experiences ever.
Everything could go wrong and there could be no doctor available and what happens if the baby isn’t completely healthy…the list goes on and on.
That’s precisely what happened on Dec. 17, when Dr. Sij Hemal was on the Paris to New York leg of his journey from New Delhi, India, and sitting next to a pediatrician. The Lord can’t orchestrate these things any better.
Being jet-lagged and leaving after a wedding, Hemal said, “I thought I’d just have a drink and fall asleep. As it turned out, I’m glad I didn’t drink anything.” Indeed, it’s good he had a (mostly) clear head on his shoulders for what he was going to have to do.
About halfway through the flight, Toyin Ogundipe, 41, went into labor while the plane was 35,000 feet in the air and skirting the coast of Greenland.
An emergency landing would have been a two-hour diversion to a U.S. military base, so rather than divert, they continued on to JFK International, thinking that labor might be long enough to wait it out.
“Her contractions were about 10 minutes apart, so the pediatrician and I began to monitor her vital signs and keep her comfortable,” Hemal said.
Shepherd was on her way home from a meeting in Dakar for the Alliance for International Medical Action.
To ensure comfort and enough space, all three people were moved to the first class section, which wasn’t full. It was the first time Hemal had ever been in first class!
The flight attendants took care of Ogundipe’s 4-year-old daughter, Amy, while the doctors were working with her mother. They used the flight’s “scanty medical kit” to monitor her vitals.
Everything was normal, but things quickly escalated as the baby got closer and closer to being born. Once her contractions got to only two minutes apart, they knew they wouldn’t make it to the ground in time.
“That’s when we knew we were going to deliver on the plane,” Hemal said. He had delivered babies before, during med school, but on a plane was definitely a first for him.
“We’re trained to stay calm and think clearly in emergency situations,” he said. “I just tried to think ahead to what might go wrong, and come up with a creative solution.”
After pushing for 30 minutes, Ogundipe brought little baby Jake into the world. Ogundipe said of the whole ordeal, “I was relaxed because I knew I was in safe hands. They did everything a doctor or midwife would have done if I was in the labor room in the hospital. Even better, if you ask me.”
Miraculously, nothing went wrong and it was a smooth birth despite its lofty nature. Once they landed, the family was taken to the closest hospital (four miles away) and Hemal was kindly escorted to his next gate.
Air France, the airline they were flying on, sent him a bottle of champagne and a travel voucher for his kindness. Hemal’s final flight to Cleveland was, thankfully, uneventful.
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