Off-Duty Doctors Deliver Baby Mid-Flight After Mother Goes Into Labor on Plane

A 27-year-old doctor and a pediatrician were on an international flight last month when a woman went into labor

When flight attendants went looking for a doctor in the house, fortunately, this flight had two.

A 27-year-old doctor and a pediatrician helped to deliver a healthy baby boy when a woman went into labor while on a plane 35,000 feet in the sky.

Dr. Sij Hemal was looking forward to some downtime on his December 17 flight on Air France. He had just flown from New Delhi, stopped over in France, and was heading to JFK International Airport before catching his flight back home to Cleveland. Hemal — a second-year urology resident at Cleveland Clinic’s Glickman Urological and Kidney Institute — was ready to have a drink of champagne and watch a movie, when, suddenly, passenger Toyin Ogundipe went into labor midway on the flight.

“I was pretty tired from jet lag,” Hemal said in a statement from the Cleveland Clinic, recounting the busiest flight of his life. “I thought I’d just have a drink and fall asleep. As it turned out, I’m glad I didn’t drink anything.”

Courtesy Cleveland Clinic

The crew contemplated an emergency landing, but since they were flying 35,000 feet over the southern coast of Greenland, pulling off course to make it to the U.S. military base in the Azores Islands would take two hours and that was not that much closer than their final destination of JFK Airport, New York.

But turns out Ogundipe’s little boy had other plans. Hemal and Dr. Susan Shepherd — a pediatrician who was coincidentally sitting right next to Hemal while returning from Dakar — rushed to Ogundipe’s side to assist with the birth.

“Her contractions were about 10 minutes apart,” Hemal explained. “[Dr. Shepherd ]and I began to monitor her vital signs and keep her comfortable.”

The crew moved Ogundipe to the first-class section of the airplane, which had more space and fewer passengers, while flight attendants watched over the Ogundipe’s 4-year-old daughter.

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Tom Merce/The Cleveland Clinic Center for Medical Art & Photography

The duo of doctors then gathered materials from the aircraft’s medical kit and monitored Ogundipe’s blood pressure, oxygen rate and pulse. Ogundipe’s contractions accelerated over the next hour, and when they got down to just two minutes apart, the team realized the baby was going to come while they were still in the air.

About 30 minutes later, Ogundipe gave birth to a baby named Jake.

“I was relaxed because I knew I was in safe hands,” Ogundipe told Cleveland Clinic in a statement. “They did everything a doctor or midwife would have done if I was in the labor room in the hospital. Even better, if you ask me.”

Courtesy Cleveland Clinic

Hemal told Cleveland Clinic that he previously delivered seven babies during medical school — but nothing like an airplane delivery.

“We’re trained to stay calm and think clearly in emergency situations,” Hemal said. “I just tried to think ahead to what might go wrong, and come up with a creative solution.”

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Once the flight made it to New York City, Ogundipe and her children were transported to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center, while Hemal said he continued on his trip back to Cleveland. But he didn’t go back empty-handed: to say thanks, he said Air France gifted him with a travel voucher and bottle of champagne to make up for the glass he didn’t get a chance to drink.

“So much could have gone wrong, but it didn’t,” he said. “Being on that particular flight, sitting next to a pediatrician… it’s like it was destiny.”

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