Vicki delivers baby at 37,000 feet, Birth on Korean Airlines on way to Philippines

Here is the full story from Vicki Penwell from:
Vicki delivers baby at 37,000 feet
Birth on Korean Airlines on way to Philippines
Korean Airlines Flight #12 on November 15, 2010 took off from LAX
on time with Scott and I on-board, en route to Manila to start a new
charity maternity clinic for the poor. We scored the exit row seats in
economy, so had plenty of leg room and slept for a few hours.
When I woke up about 6 hours into the flight, I noticed a flight
attendant was bringing a woman to the jump seat in front of us, and she
was sitting like she was in pain. My subconscious brain immediately
recognized the unique type of squirming and sideways twisting that I had
seen thousands of times...but my conscious brain said "no, people don't
go into labor on airplanes except in the movies!" and anyway, in the
dark I could not even tell if she was pregnant. But being medically
trained in emergency and primary care as well as being a midwife, and
being a generally helpful person, I got up and approached the scene to
see if I could lend assistance.
A short history revealed that the woman (a Korean citizen named
Jannie, who lived in Los Angles) had boarded the plane feeling fine but
had been having stomach pains the past 4 hours, and had just gone to the
bathroom and discovered she was bleeding. This was her third baby, due
Jan 1. Her squirming had now turned into low moaning as well, and the
steward looked terribly uncomfortable, unsure of what to do. He
helpfully approached her with an oxygen mask, which is what you do for
heart attacks, but was not much help for this situation. I told the
steward we needed to get her to a private place, that she was going to
deliver. He looked shocked and in denial and so did the woman. I
insisted he think of a plan for a private place...perhaps clear out the
back row of seats?
Finally making up his mind, the steward turned and led the way, so
we walked forward, me supporting the laboring woman, all the way through
the plane to the very front (the part I had never seen) where the first
class passengers live in a world apart. It was like a small apartment,
with wide seats that made into fully reclining beds, and very wide
isles. We got the woman situated on a makeshift bed. By now she was
really in hard labor. The steward in charge came up and demanded some
medical ID from me, which Scott produced out of my handbag. It was
pretty obvious the word "midwife" did not register with them. They were
scared, understandably; they called on the intercom for any other
medical assistance, and a Korean cardiologist came forward. However,
since delivering babies was not in his scope of practice, he deferred to
me and seemed very relieved at my answers to all his questions; "had I
done this before, because he had not"..."yes" I said, "over 2,500
.."did I know how to resuscitate a baby?"..."yes, I am
trained in Neonatal Resuscitation"..."did I know how to stop bleeding if
she hemorrhaged?"..."yes", ...and on and on.

The woman's water broke with a splash at this point, and discussion
ceased. They all agreed I was in charge and they seemed very happy for
it. The stewardesses tripped over each other each time I would ask for
something, and rounded up every bit of medical supplies they had on the
plane, though most were for heart attack emergencies. Since by dates the
baby would be 6 weeks premature, I asked for lots of blankets, and told
everyone we would be doing kangaroo care, with the baby skin to skin on
the mother covered by blankets after birth. Since the doctor was
worried that we had no anti-hemorrhage drugs, I told them all we would
use breastfeeding and massage to contract the uterus. Since we had no
resuscitation equipment or suction, I figured out a plan how to that if
necessary with what we had on hand.

At the time of the birth, there were about 6 stewardesses up there
helping, holding the woman's hands, wiping her brow, giving her sips of
water through a straw. it was like a homebirth and they were all her
sisters! Scott was standing at my shoulder to hand me the improvised
items I had found to use for emergencies should I need it. Fortunately I
did not.

Ten hours after take-off, and with 4 hours left to go before
landing, a nice baby boy was born, and with a little stimulation he
cried and pinked right up. The stewardesses clapped and laughed and
cried. The Apgar score was 9/9, meaning he transitioned well to
extra-uterine life at 37,000 feet! By exam the baby was 38 weeks,
meaning her dates had been a month off and he was really full-term. The
placenta came after about 45 minutes, and the baby began to nurse like a
champ. Airline policy actually forbids cutting the cord after an
in-flight birth, so that was great; I just wrapped it up in a first
class linen napkin, and tucked it in the blankets, preventing any chance
of infection.

For the rest of the plane ride into Seoul, Scott and I sat up in
first class and I monitored the mother and baby. It was a very joyful
atmosphere. The mother was so thankful and happy, and appreciative, and
so were all the airline personnel. Scott took a short video using his
laptop computer after everything was cleaned up and the mom and baby
were relaxing. (Click the link to watch a few seconds of post-birth


An ambulance crew came on and got the mother and baby when we
landed, and Korean airlines officials guided Scott and I personally to
our next gate on to Manila, and changed our tickets to business class.
The pilot himself on the Manila leg came back and said thank you for my
help. It was pretty great, even though I landed in Manila exhausted with
that unique feeling all midwives know of having been up all night at a
birth, with jet-lag on top!

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