Nurses recall mid-air drama after child becomes critically-ill on flight

MID-AIR: Hinchingbrooke staff Natalie Styles-Hudson and David Styles-Hudson who treated a severely i

MID-AIR: Hinchingbrooke staff Natalie Styles-Hudson and David Styles-Hudson who treated a severely ill child. Picture: NHS - Credit: Archant

Two nurses from Hinchingbrooke Hospital have told how they battled to save the life of a toddler who had become severely ill on a flight to America.

Natalie Styles-Hudson, 39, lead nurse for paediatrics, and Dave Styles-Hudson, 42, site manager, were on a family holiday when the 18-month-old boy began struggling to breathe and turned blue after suffering from croup.

Natalie said she had been “petrified” trying to treat the child using only the equipment on the aircraft which was thousands of feet over the Atlantic and three hours from the nearest land.

She said she thought the child was close to death on three occasions and that he had been showing “pre-terminal signs”,

Natalie and brother-in-law Dave, a former RAF nurse, had been travelling to Florida when the crew requested medical assistance because the youngster had become seriously ill.

Dave, who served as an intensive care aviation specialist when he was in the RAF - including escorting severely injured troops from Afghanistan - had earlier offered to help when the aircraft was forced to return to London after a burning smell was reported in the cabin and a passenger became ill.

Natalie said: “It was pretty horrendous. I have been nursing 17 years and I have only seen one child that bad with croup.

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“He was desperately ill and there were three points where I thought he was going to die. He had gone blue from head to toe and was gasping for breath. I thought the child was going to go into respiratory distress and die. We were three hours away from any land and I thought we would end up with a dead baby.”

Natalie said she felt vulnerable because she was used to working in a fully-equipped emergency department with other staff on hand.

“I was absolutely petrified although I tried to keep calm for the family,” she said. “Quite how he survived I don’t know. It was really something against the odds, he was showing pre-terminal signs.”

The duo had to use the limited medical equipment on board the aircraft to treat the child who went on to make a full recovery after a spell in intensive care after the aircraft diverted to Bermuda.

Dave said: “When you are on an aircraft you have got to work with what you have got.”

He said the “game changer” came when Natalie was given special clearance to go in to the cockpit - normally closed to passengers after terrorist attacks - in order to speak to a medical adviser on the ground.

Dave said despite their best efforts in giving maximum doses of steroids and adrenaline, the child continued to deteriorate and they were faced with having to ask the crew to screen the area off if the child stopped breathing.

He also figured out a way of doubling the amount of oxygen the child was receiving from the aircraft’s supply by adapting two cylinders to run into a single facemask at a rate which would last the rest of the flight.

Dave said: “There is no doubt that without Natalie and me the child would probably have died.”

Natalie said the Virgin flight, with 450 people aboard, had to make an emergency landing in Bermuda where the aircraft was met by an ambulance which took the youngster to intensive care where he stayed for two days.

The passengers were then stranded overnight in Bermuda.

After the incident the airline carried out an investigation and a more secure way of getting in touch with a medic on the ground from the aircraft cabin is being adopted as a result of Natalie and Dave’s experience.

Dave said he had been impressed by Virgin’s rapid response to the incident.