A story of survival: Cardiac arrest at 29,000 feet

Imagine that your heart stops on a passenger jet flying at an altitude of 29,000 feet. One row back sit a cardiologist, a Director of Cardiovascular Services and a Registered Nurse – all from OHSU. Sound incredible?

On April 3, 2013 that’s exactly what happened to Prem Raghu, a 67-year-old Portlander who also happens to be a former OHSU heart transplant patient.

“It was divine intervention,” says Judi Workman, OHSU’s Director of Cardiovascular Services. She and Dr. Joaquin Cigarroa were aboard the flight from Portland to Dallas to attend a medical conference. Apheresis RN Candace Funicello was en route to Ft. Lauderdale for a holiday cruise. Mr. Raghu and his wife Manjula were traveling to Dallas to visit their daughter.

About an hour into the flight, Mrs. Raghu realized that her husband was unconscious.  When he couldn’t find a pulse, Dr. Cigarroa tried to lift Mr. Raghu to the aisle for CPR but the armrests wouldn’t go up. Funicello was on her feet in a flash. “I’m a nurse at OHSU and I can help!” As she and Dr. Cigarroa worked to revive him, a flight attendant brought out a defibrillator.  Just as the pads were placed on his chest, Mr. Raghu began to breathe again and opened his eyes.

On Dr. Cigarroa’s advice, the pilot arranged an emergency landing in Salt Lake City and lined up a team of medics. Passengers erupted into cheers and applause when Mr. Raghu was escorted off the plane in a wheelchair.

This week, Mr. and Mrs. Raghu made a surprise appearance at the OHSU Golden ROSE Award ceremony honoring Funicello and Dr. Cigarroa. It was an emotional reunion, with hugs all around.  Click here to see the Oregonian’s coverage of the story.