Sondus Alkadri, BDM, M.Dent, a student at the University of Colorado School of Dental Medicine (CU SDM), was studying for an exam on her flight home when she heard the captain make this announcement: “is there a doctor on board?”
As a trained dentist from Syria, she decided to offer her help.
When Alkadri arrived at the patient’s side, with family and flight crew surrounding them, the adrenaline set in. She was the only person on the flight with medical experience.
“In the moment, I was freaking out,” said Alkadri. “But there was no time to second guess myself. Everyone was panicking and all eyes were on me.”
Sondus Alkadri, BDM, M.Dent
The patient was conscious and alert, complaining of tightness in her chest and saying, “I can’t breathe.” Alkadri remembered her training from a course called Prevention and Management of Medical Emergencies, which is part of the Advanced Standing International Student Program (ISP) curriculum.
She quickly went through the “ABCs of emergency care” to assess the situation:
Airway: The patient’s tongue and throat looked normal with no swelling or redness; nothing was blocking her airway.
Breathing: The patient was breathing but complained of shortness of breath. One of the flight attendants brought her oxygen, which seemed to help.
Circulation: Alkadri checked the patient’s pulse and discovered it was slightly elevated.
Next, Alkadri tried to think of other factors that might be contributing to the patient’s discomfort. She asked about any pre-existing medical conditions, family medical history, possible allergies, food and water intake that day—nothing stood out. Alkadri asked her to recount what happened before and during the flight, leading up to this incident. The patient finally admitted she was anxious about flying, which could mean she was experiencing a panic attack. Alkadri treated her with continued oxygen therapy and monitoring.
Then came another loaded question from the captain: “Do we need to land the plane?”
He asked Alkadri directly to make the call.
The patient was feeling better; her symptoms had improved, her heart rate was back to normal, and the oxygen was helping her breathe more calmly. Alkadri decided the plane could continue its course to Charlotte, NC, as planned.
William McMunn III, DDS, MD, assistant professor of surgical dentistry and Chair of the Division of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, said he is happy and proud that Alkadri was able to use what she learned in class to truly make a difference in a person’s life. He added, “our students are trained in the highest standards of care and as a result they are able to manage these types of emergencies to help people in their time of need.”
When the plane finally landed, everyone began clapping for Alkadri and thanking her for her assistance. The patient and her family were incredibly grateful. A medical team met them on the jetway for further assessment.
Alkadri made her connection to Denver, CO, and the next day she was back in the CU Dental clinics seeing patients. She also took the exam she had been studying for on the plane—and aced it.
“The craziest part about this whole thing is that I wasn’t supposed to be on that flight,” said Alkadri. “I was supposed to come home the day before, but my original flight was canceled. I believe God put me on that flight for a reason.”
Days later, Alkadri received an email:
“On behalf of American Airlines, please accept our company’s formal thank you for the assistance you provided... We are all grateful that you were on board and freely offered your medical experience when it was needed most. Dr. Alkadri, without a doubt, you greatly improved a difficult situation.”
Alkadri said she is truly humbled, and she gives credit to her course on Prevention and Management of Medical Emergencies. “When I made the decision to pursue my DDS degree and practice in the US, I didn’t know what I would learn that was new or different from my dental education in Syria. The emergency care course is one of many important lessons I’m learning. I’m just glad I was there to help.”