Thousands of feet above the nearest hospital, an airplane is one of the last places anyone would want to find a loved one unresponsive and not breathing. Unless there’s someone like Lynbrook firefighter Michael Kenny on board.
Kenny, a 34-year member of the Lynbrook Fire Department and Engine Company No. 1, was aboard an American Airlines flight in January with his wife, Lisa, and their three children, on the way to a nephew’s wedding in El Salvador, when he heard a woman cry out in Spanish, “My daughter is dead.” The plane was about 15 minutes from landing, and the seatbelt sign had just come on. Kenny, who understands Spanish, quickly sprang out of his aisle seat, six rows in front of the woman, to assess the situation.
He found a 2-year-old girl lying lifeless across two seats. “She was blue, limp and there was no response,” Kenny recalled. “I knew it was bad.”
Two flight attendants also rushed over, and asked Kenny if he was a doctor. He told them he was a first responder, and saw that the girl had vomited and was choking on the fluid in her throat. He used a fork to move her tongue out of the way and turned her on her back. He was told had a history of seizures.
One of the flight attendants offered him an oxygen mask and the tubing that’s used for pre-flight demonstrations. Kenny quickly assembled a suction device using the mask, the tubing and a squeezable ball. Then he and the flight attendant suctioned out the fluid and he began administering CPR. After about 20 seconds, the girl began breathing again. Kenny estimated that the whole ordeal took two to three minutes.
And he knew the girl was still at risk, because a loss of oxygen can have severe neurological consequences. He asked the flight attendant for a bag of ice so he could see if the girl would respond to the cold sensation. When he applied the ice to her bare skin, the girl’s eyes opened. “It was absolutely incredible,” he said.
Having been alerted to the emergency, the co-pilot joined him, and asked if there was anything he could do. Kenny asked him to land the plane as quickly as possible and to have a medical team waiting on the ground. It landed a few minutes later, and Salvadoran medical professionals came aboard and took the girl to a hospital.