Duty calls 30,000 feet up, and GCU alumna answers

By Janie Magruder
GCU News Bureau

There are at least two excuses GCU alumna Courtney Mitchell could have used to not get involved in a medical emergency on her flight Sunday to Frankfurt, Germany. She was seated in the aircraft’s middle seat, and the flight attendant’s cabin announcement for medical personnel came during the breakfast service.

Neither justification occurred to the 25-year-old Phoenix resident, who raised her hand, told the attendant she was a nurse and politely asked her neighbor to move so that she could get out of her seat. The United flight was packed.

“I was just doing what I love and what Grand Canyon trained me so well to do,” said Mitchell, who earned a bachelor’s of science in nursing from the College of Nursing and Health Care Professions in 2011. She's a nurse on a neurosurgical telemetry floor at Banner Boswell Medical Center in Sun City.

It was Mitchell’s first European vacation, and about two hours remained in the flight (the plane was over Ireland, at least 30,000 feet up) when the emergency arose. She was led to an elderly passenger who was flushed, perspiring, breathing rapidly and feverish, and his lips were bluish. She ordered oxygen for him, asked his traveling companion for his name and began talking to him directly.

“He had the typical word salad of a stroke patient and was unable to make any sense,” she said. “I counted his respirations, took his pulse and asked the attendant for a blood pressure cuff.  At this point, a doctor came to the scene, and I informed him of the patient’s status.”

Mitchell, who typically cares for patients with strokes, seizures, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and back, neck or brain surgeries, thought the patient had hypoxia, a possible infection or a stroke. But the medical supplies on board the plane were limited, and critical thinking became even more critical. She began a stroke assessment, asking the man questions and assessing his eyes, coordination, speech, sensation and strength.

Nearly 45 minutes later, the patient started to come back around and talk better, and the doctor, after conferring with medical staff at the Frankfurt airport, decided the patient’s health was stable enough to not require an emergency landing.

“When we landed, the EMTs boarded the plane from the back entrance and were able to hook up a different oxygen system, vital machines and a heart monitor and moved him to a wheelchair,” Mitchell recalled.

“On the way out his friend handed the doctor and me each a cross for our help and graciously thanked us,” she said.

Dr. Anne McNamara, dean of the College of Nursing and Health Care Professions, said Mitchell’s actions were both expected by and outlined in the American Nurses Association’s Code of Ethics.

“I am proud of Courtney’s response to a person in distress,” McNamara said. “We know that a nurse’s job is never done, and it spans all borders.”

Contact Janie Magruder at 639.8011 or [email protected].

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