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Patient Becomes Unconscious Mid-Flight

The morning of Christmas Eve, Grace Tseng and her husband boarded a Delta flight from Memphis to Los Angeles to be with family for the holidays. Shortly after takeoff, Tseng began to feel ill.

"I told my husband, who was sitting beside me, 'I feel a little dizzy,' " said Tseng, a 52-year-old restaurant owner from Ripley, Miss.

Lt. Daniel Harris, a Memphis firefighter, was also on the flight, going to Los Angeles to be with his wife and children.

"It was a 3 1/2 -hour flight, but we were in the air for five minutes before everything started happening," said Harris, 39. "Over the intercom, a flight attendant asked if there was a doctor on board.

"They were all standing over her, and at that time I identified myself as a Memphis firefighter."

Tseng became unconscious in her seat. She later attributed the illness to motion sickness medicine she'd taken prior to boarding the flight.

Harris, members of the Delta flight crew and other passengers - including a nurse and a Chinese translator for Tseng's husband - had the emergency situation under control.

After making sure Tseng wasn't having a seizure, Harris said he performed the ABC's of emergency care - airway, breathing and circulation - or as it is more commonly known, basic life support or CPR. Tseng vomited and then it became clear to Harris that nothing was blocking her airways or preventing her from breathing.

Flight attendants helped clean her up and when Tseng came to, she recalled "everyone was smiling."

"I stayed with her and held her hand for a while," said Harris. "I switched seats so I could sit next to her."

Delta spokeswoman Gina Laughlin provided a statement: "Delta crew members undergo rigorous training to handle a number of scenarios that may occur onboard. Our flight attendants and pilots aboard Flight 1715 demonstrated great professionalism in handling this medical emergency, and we sincerely appreciate their efforts."

Tseng's son, Luke, penned a letter of gratitude to Harris and the flight crew. "We have never met, and yet we are indebted to you because you saved the life of someone very dear to us. ... We would like to sincerely thank them (flight crew and passengers), and also each one of you, for your calmness and care. Our family was able to enjoy a blessed holiday in Los Angeles thanks to all of you."

Luke said via e-mail that the family "found out about the event right after they got off of the plane and my sister picked them up. As my sister was walking them out of the airport, they began to tell her the story."

Harris, who has been with the Memphis Fire Department for 16 years and is stationed in Frayser, said he has been in similar situations in restaurants and with car accidents, but "never on a plane."

Everything was OK upon Tseng's return to Memphis, but her ailment on Christmas Eve remains somewhat of a mystery.

"When we were coming back I was so scared, but I was fine. I didn't get sick at all; I still don't know why. The only thing I can think of was the motion sickness medicine."

This was the Tseng's second time going to Los Angeles, according to Luke, and they may turn it into a yearly holiday trip despite the incident this past Christmas Eve. Still, Tseng is grateful for the people on the plane, many whose names she didn't even know.

"I cannot thank them enough for saving my life," she said.

"The other people on the plane were all, 'He's a hero.' I was just doing my job. Even though I wasn't working," said Harris.
 

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