Ann Blackford

Medical Emergency on Airplane Elevates UK Nurse to Hero Status for Local Businessman

Published: May 22, 2014

 

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 22, 2014) — On April 3, 2014, Sarah Buschmann, a University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital neurosciences ICU nurse, had just settled into her seat near the back of an airplane departing Bluegrass Airport for Las Vegas.  About 20 minutes into the flight, she put her headphones on to take a nap. She was eagerly anticipating meeting up with four friends from other states to celebrate her 29th birthday on April 17 and her cousin's birthday on the 6th. It was a great excuse for them all to get together and she was excited. 

 

Bill Schutters, a 63-year-old businessman and entrepreneur from Richmond, Ky., and his companion Carol Conyers, were on the same flight. Schutters had a stressful week of traveling and work and they were looking forward to a little rest and relaxation in Las Vegas.

About 20 minutes into the flight, Schutters felt hot and began sweating profusely. As he removed his jacket, he told Conyers he was feeling sick.

 

"We joke around a lot and at first I thought he might be joking," Conyers said. "But when he threw his head back gasping for air and his normal ruddy complexion turned white as a sheet, I knew he was in trouble. His head fell forward and his eyes rolled back into his head as he passed out. I thought he was having a heart attack."

 

Buschmann was dozing peacefully to her music when she heard a voice talking over the loud speaker although she didn't understand what was said. She asked a nearby flight attendant who told her that a medical doctor or nurse was needed for someone in distress.

 

Without hesitation, Buschmann stood up and said, "I am a nurse. What can I do to help?"

Buschmann was led to a three seat aisle in the middle of the plane where she saw Schutters in the middle seat, pale, sweating, and unresponsive. The passenger in the third seat on the other side of Schutters was frightened and left for another seat. Buschmann sat down and began trying to figure out what was going on.

 

"He was having difficulty breathing, epigastric pain with nausea, in a cold sweat, dusky and in and out of consciousness," Buschmann said. "He was struggling to answer my questions and Ms. Conyers had to fill in the blanks for him. I had to continually probe him to keep him awake and talking."

 

"Sarah was so calm, a real pro," Conyers said. "She asked for a blood pressure cuff, a stethoscope and oxygen. The oxygen tank arrived covered in dust. Sarah just calmly wiped it off with her hand and onto her pant leg as she checked the gauges and expiration date. She didn't hesitate to turn it on to start getting oxygen to Bill. He went through four tanks.  She knew he needed fluids and got him ginger ale and an aspirin. She was amazing."

 

Buschmann never left Schutters' side for the duration of their four hour flight, constantly monitoring him and checking in with the pilot and air medics by phone until they safely landed.  His color slowly returned after the ginger ale although he remained drowsy, continuing with spells of having trouble breathing and diaphoresis. The pilot decided that as long as he was conscious and stable he would able to tolerate the flight, there was no need for to divert the flight and land.

 

"Sarah has quite a sense of humor," Conyers said. "We really got to know each other during those four hours. We talked about everything that had happened that day prior to the flight.  We laughed so hard over that dirty oxygen tank. We can laugh about it now. Sarah talked about her how much she loved her job at UK. I learned that she went through the same nursing program that my niece is going through."

 

Schutters describes what happened to him that day as "the perfect storm." He only had a light meal and a glass of wine before the flight and his blood sugar had dropped. His normally elevated blood pressure had plummeted, he was under a lot of stress, dehydrated, couldn't get enough oxygen, and the extreme turbulence the airplane was experiencing that day only seemed to exacerbate his symptoms.

 

A medical team was on the runway when the plane landed to perform medical tests and take over Schutters' care, but to Schutters and Conyers, Buschmann was the real hero that day.

"Sarah was our angel because we don't know what would have happened if she hadn't been there," Conyers said. "She jumped to help us immediately. She didn't think about us intruding on her birthday celebration. She is amazing and an excellent reflection on UK. I have adopted her into my heart."

 

Buschmann attributes her attitude towards helping others to her upbringing. "My parents raised me well, teaching me to always help others. My mother is also in the medical profession and my godfather is a physician," she said. "All my life I’ve witnessed them jumping in to provide care when called upon. As a nurse in the ICU, I'm used to helping in a moments notice without stopping to think about it. We see everything here at UK and feel well prepared. It was my job to make sure that he was OK first and foremost."

 

After deboarding the plane, Buschmann made sure that Schutters and Conyers were OK with her leaving them with the medical team on the ground.

 

Schutters and Conyers thanked Buschmann many times over for everything she had done to help them. Still, a few weeks after their trip Conyers felt the need to find the young nurse they only knew as "Sarah" and to thank her again as well as let her co-workers and supervisors at UK HealthCare know about the exemplary care Schutters received that day thousands of feet in the air.  On May 21, a much healthier Schutters and Conyers came to the hospital to thank Sarah again and to be present as she was honored for her actions that day. 

 

“At UK HealthCare, our nursing vision is 'leading the way for every patient, every time,'" said Colleen Swartz, Chief Nurse Executive at UK HealthCare. "Sometimes the 'patients' we encounter may not actually be located at UK, but a patient we encounter by chance.  Sarah demonstrates our core values and lives out our vision of what being a nurse at UKHC means.  We are fortunate to have Sarah, and many others like her on our team."    

 

Media Contact: Ann Blackford at 859-323-6442 or ann.blackford@uky.edu          

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