Cardiac arrest on a long-haul flight: ‘this brave young nurse saved my life’

As a nursing student, Patient’s Choice nominee Isobel Corrie gave CPR to a fellow passenger

Before the incident, Isobel Corrie had never performed compressions outside of the student environment

Flying home from a two-week holiday in Thailand, Isobel Corrie was looking forward to her graduation from Oxford Brookes University the following week and then starting her first role as a qualified nurse at Warwick Hospital.

She was fast asleep but was woken by the person sitting next her, who told her there was an emergency on board and there had been a call over the tannoy asking for anyone with medical experience.

Flat-line cardiac arrest during the flight

Fellow passenger James Birch, who was also travelling home after a holiday with his partner, had gone into sudden cardiac arrest three and a half hours into the flight.

‘Despite only recently having qualified, an amazing young lady stepped forward when the call for help was made, and pulled me back from a flat-line cardiac arrest,’ says Mr Birch.

‘In the cramped environment of a long-haul aircraft at 38,000 feet she managed the small cabin crew team for 45 minutes until we could divert to a suitable airport with a hospital close by. Thanks to the CPR she administered, and the use of the onboard defibrillator, my life was saved,’ he says.

Read about the rest of our Patient’s Choice finalists below, or click here to vote

‘The emergency care she supervised was so thorough that despite the length of time that the event continued for, I have suffered very little in health consequences as a result.’

‘If she had not stepped forward I would not be here to tell the story’

Mr Birch has nominated Ms Corrie for the Patient’s Choice category of the RCNi Nurse Awards 2020.

He adds that, as a fellow passenger, Ms Corrie was ‘under no obligation to put herself into this stressful and high-pressure situation’.

James Birch with his partner Julie Birch

‘Very few people would have done the same, or with such efficiency and professionalism,’ he says.

‘This brave young lady saved my life when it would have been easier to sit quietly and do nothing.

‘I am in no doubt whatsoever that had she not stepped forward I would not be here to recount the story today. As much as I genuinely believe she deserves this award more than anyone else on earth, it would not be anywhere near enough to express our eternal gratitude for what she did.’

Performing CPR for the first time outside of the student environment

Ms Corrie, who now works in the gastrointestinal surgery department at Warwick Hospital, says she is shocked to have been nominated.

‘My first year as a nurse has been a rollercoaster – lots of highs and lows and valuable learning experiences, but this is a real high. I am in such a supportive team and I am enjoying being a nurse so much.’

She says of the incident: ‘I was a bit disorientated from sleep and had only experienced a peri-arrest situation during my training, but I started thinking about my ABCDE [approach to assess the deteriorating patient].

‘Doing compressions for the first time cramped into an aisle was surreal and when you are a student you always have someone watching over you to make sure you are doing it right. I told myself that I was all this man had and I was going to do my best, and that nobody was watching and I was not being judged.’

‘We helped each other after the incident – our own debrief’

Later, she contacted Mr Birch via social media to see how he was.

‘I was finding it hard to process,’ she says. ‘James and his partner could not remember much and were finding it difficult to process too, so we helped each other – it has been our debrief and we remain in contact.’

Voting for the RCNi Patient’s Choice award opens on 17 August and closes at midnight on 28 August. The winner will be announced winner at a virtual ceremony later this year

The RCNi Patient’s Choice award is sponsored by Nursing Standard