ALBANY, N.Y. – An ordinary Thanksgiving Day flight turned into an effort to save a life for New York Air National Guard Master Sgt. Daniel Conley, a medical technician assigned to the 105th Airlift Wing.
The Nov. 24 trip of Delta flight 1253 from Albany to Atlanta was routine until a passenger with a history of stroke lost consciousness.
“We are going to have to halt our in-flight snack and beverage service due to a medical emergency. Are there any medical providers available to assist?” a flight attendant announced over the intercom.
Conley, a senior aerospace medical technician of the 105th Medical Group based at Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, New York, rocketed out of his seat and made his way to assist passengers and attendants hovering around the unconscious passenger at the rear of the plane.
“I heard the call go out over the speakers for anyone with medical experience and I thought, well, that’s me then,” said Conley. “I wasn’t nervous at first, more curious to see how I could help. I went back and found the scene was pretty hectic, there were a few nurses, but nobody seemed to be organizing a response.”
To provide medical assistance at cruising altitude, health care professionals must work in a physically constrained environment with limited resources.
“I looked at the guy and he looked pretty bad,“ Conley said. “Pale and sweaty. He was alert and oriented but unfocused, so we got an abbreviated history from his wife. Turns out he had a history of stroke and had not taken his medication that morning. With that, we ramped up the response.”
Conley opened the onboard emergency medical kit and provided a full medical assessment.
“There was no glucometer so we couldn’t get a blood sugar on him, but we gave him some juice and aspirin anyway. During this phase, his color came back and his mentation improved. We put him on oxygen and redid his vitals. Everything looked good. So, we rechecked vitals the rest of the way to Atlanta.”
As an aerospace medical technician and a member of the FEMA Region II Homeland Response Force, trained for an all-hazards medical response to chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear events, Conley was well prepared to respond to the needs of his fellow passengers.
“Master Sgt. Conley’s actions are a reminder to us all that the skills we learn as members of the Air National Guard are valuable to our families and the community both in and out of uniform,” said Col. Philip O. Forlenza, commander of the 105th Medical Group.
In-flight medical emergencies average 1 out of every 604 passenger flights, and approximately 2.8 million passengers fly in and out of U.S. airports every day, according to the New England Journal of Medicine and the Federal Aviation Administration. This works out to nearly 50 in-flight medical emergencies in the United States every day. Thankfully, a highly trained Airman was ready to answer the call during this one.
“I was only in a position to help because of my U.S. Air Force training, both in evaluating him as a patient and in leading a coordinated response,” said Conley. “We say readiness is the key, and it’s difficult to stay ready day in and day out without ever being called to utilize the readied skill set. That day the readiness paid off. I got the call and was able to perform.”
Conley was on his way to visit family for Thanksgiving in Springfield, Missouri. A 20-year member of the Air National Guard, Conley started as an aircraft electrical and environmental systems technician before becoming a medic.
“Originally, I went into medical because I wanted to be a doctor, but changed that into being a medicinal chemist,” said Conley, who is a drug product specialist in his civilian job for a pharmaceutical company.