Filipino Doctor Becomes A Hero On US Transcontinental Flight

Despite enduring sleeplessness, hunger and fatigue, a Filipino doctor superbly fulfilled his professional duty during midflight in the United States.

Filipino physician Dr. Lawrence Eidref Lipana , who just came from a memorial service for his father-in-law, boarded an Alaska Airlines from San Jose, CA to Newark International Airport, New Jersey. But thirty minutes after takeoff, flight crew announced the need for a medical professional on board as a young passenger was experiencing shortness of breath, lightheadedness and abdominal pain.

Sensing that no one else responded to the appeal, Lipana got up and presented his credentials to the crew. It also helped that he was wearing a jacket that bear ‘Yale Anesthesiology,’ aware that some people might have issues with the legitimacy of medical doctors belonging to minority race.

“The crew looked at my ID and introduced me to the family as a physician, although I was I nervous because this was my first time on the plane where I was the only physician,” recalls Lipana, whose credentials include a board-certified pediatrician for five years aside from being an anesthesiologist in New Haven, Connecticut and is affiliated with multiple hospitals in the area, including VA Connecticut Healthcare and Yale-New Haven Hospital.

“I reassured myself because I knew that my experience in pediatrics, which was heavy on primary and diagnostic care and complemented my anesthesiology training with emphasis on procedural work, critical care.”

Flight crew brought out inflight medical kit with basic equipment to take vitals, and had administered lifesaving medications as well as oxygen to the girl while waiting for a responding medical professional.

“The first big question was the need to start resuscitation now or take a history. Since she appeared stable on initial assessment, I proceeded to get a history from the patient and her family. Another big question I asked myself was: Do we need to prepare for an emergency landing since flight medicine is different because of limited equipment and diagnostic ability? But based on my queries and physical examination, I made sure to rule out any causes that may require immediate transportation to a hospital, so emergency landing was not needed,” said Lipana.

Soon, the flight established connection with a ground-based emergency room physician, whom Lipana coordinated with, through radio the pilot and crew hooked up.

“This was important because this opened the door to many medical professionals being able to provide adequate care for a patient (aboard an airplane). Knowing that the pilots, crew and ground medical staff were on my side, I felt comfortable that we could work as a team. The ER physician, who was more comfortable with drugs commonly present on the plane, advised which ones to give her. I gave her that and provided hydration before returning to my seat,” Lipana explained.

When the girl experienced a new set of symptoms, Lipana was called back again and sat next to her, taking vital exams and providing additional hydration. It turned out that the girl is suffering from mild, transient side effects of initial medicine’s dosage. He only returned to his seat when the girl’s condition stabilized.

Dr Lipana having breakfast after addressing an inflight medical situation.
“If I was not there, I am not sure what would have happened. They still would have gotten the ER doctor on radio with someone, either the crew or another passenger, taking vitals and monitoring the patient closely,” Lipana says. “Since the plane was somewhere near Colorado/Utah, an emergency landing and take-off would have canceled the rest of the flight or at least caused a two to three-hour delay.”

He learned that in such situations, the pilot and the crew becomes part of the medical team, and it pays to be nice and act professionally at all times.

Lipana was a pre-med magna cum laude graduate at UCLA before proceeding to earn his medical degree at UC Davis School of Medicine.

Growing up along the banks of Zapote River in Bacoor, Cavite, Lipana joins medical missions and outreach programs in the Philippines as a way of giving back to his roots.

That heroic act on a flight from California to New Jersey was part of the fulfillment of a dream for Lipana who used to climb up the roof of his childhood home in the Philippines to count airplanes that pass by, with hope that he could board on one of them on his way to a better future.