Canadian doctor Aisha delivers 'Miracle' baby on flight
Dir Aisha Khatib with the baby.
Dr Aisha Khatib, a professor at the University of Toronto, was about one hour into her Qatar Airways flight from Doha to Entebbe when the call went out. A Ugandan migrant worker travelling home from Saudi Arabia was about to deliver her first child.
Dr Khatib, bleary-eyed from a gruelling work schedule back in coronavirus-plagued Toronto, was enjoying a well-earned rest on the third leg of her trip. But she did not hesitate when a voice on the intercom asked if there was a doctor aboard.
"I see a crowd of people gathered around the patient," Dr Khatib told BBC. At this point she was assuming it was a critical situation, like a heart attack. "As I got closer see this woman lying on the seat with her head toward the aisle and feet towards the window. And the baby was coming out!"
Dr Khatib was helped by two other passengers - an oncology nurse and a paediatrician from Doctors Without Borders (MSF).
The baby was crying "robustly", she said. Following a quick check, she passed the infant to the paediatrician for a closer inspection. "I looked at the baby, and she was stable, and I looked at the mom and she was OK," says Dr Khatib.
"So I was like, 'Congratulations it's a girl.' Then the entire plane started clapping and cheering and was like 'Oh right, I'm on a plane and everybody is watching this.'"
Is there a doctor on the plane? 🙋🏽♀️👩🏽⚕️Never thought I’d be delivering a baby on a flight! ✈️ @qatarairways Thanks to the airline crew who helped support the birth of this Miracle in the air! Mom and baby are doing well and healthy! #travelmedicine pic.twitter.com/4JuQWfsIDE— Aisha Khatib, MD (@AishaKhatib) January 13, 2022
"The best part of the story is that she decided to name the baby after me."
As a gift to her namesake, she gave Miracle Aisha the gold necklace that she was wearing with the name Aisha written in Arabic. "I thought I'd give it to her and she'll have a little token of the doctor that delivered her 35,000ft in the air while flying over the Nile."
The delivery happened on 5 December, but Dr Khatib has been too busy treating Covid patients in Toronto to share the pictures until this week.
She was called back from Uganda - where was training local workers - on 18 December. On her flight home, there was yet another call for a medical expert on her plane.
"Luckily there was another doctor there," Dr Khatib laughs.
"And I kinda said: This one's you. I delivered a baby two weeks ago. If you need me I'm in seat 25A.'"
Mother was 'calm and focused'
Khatib remembers someone giving her gloves before she zeroed in on the birth-in-progress. "As that was happening, somebody on my left said, 'I'm a nurse, can I help you?' And I said, 'Yes, I need the medical kit. You know, there should be a delivery kit in [here]. If not, I need clamps. I need scissors. If we don't have clamps, I need shoelaces,'" she said.
"I'm [also] thinking, 'I need hot water.' And then like, 'Wait, no. I don't need hot water, but they always ask for that in the movies."
It was an unexpected surprise for both Khatib, who had never delivered a baby in a plane before, and the mother, who was travelling alone. "She was calm. She was focused," Khatib recalled. "I mean, I think she was in shock, you know, to tell you the truth."
According to the doctor, the mother called an airline attendant over when she felt severe abdominal pain. The attendant asked if she was pregnant — and only then did the passenger realize she was in labour.
Meet baby Miracle Aisha 💕 pic.twitter.com/hkiJpgvGKv— Aisha Khatib, MD (@AishaKhatib) January 13, 2022
Qatar Airways told CityNews that crews are trained to deal with on-board emergencies, including delivering babies. It also said the airline usually has a cutoff for when pregnant women can fly, and the woman on Dr Khatib's flight was on the border of that cutoff.
"She hadn't had any prenatal care," Khatib said. "Even when I got to this situation … I had no history of anything about her. And so that's always a little bit of a scary situation, right?"
Government of Canada travel guidance says women with healthy pregnancies can fly up to 36 weeks gestation, but that most airlines restrict travel in late pregnancy or may require a written confirmation from a physician.
Once the baby was out on the seat, another passenger popped up beside Khatib and identified herself as a pediatrician with Médecins Sans Frontières.
The pediatrician assessed the newborn as Khatib turned her attention to delivering the placenta and making sure the mother was healthy. "I'm kind of piling blankets underneath her … cautious that I don't want her to bleed … so I had to go very slow with the placenta," Khatib said.
"Then I'm thinking, 'OK, well, I need a plastic bag. Give me a plastic bag.' So these people [other passengers] were just handing me things as I was calling for them, which is great."
A new namesake
With the mother in stable condition, the pediatrician handed the newborn back to Khatib.
"I said, 'OK, well, congratulations! It's a girl!' And at that point, the entire plane erupted in clapping and cheering, and I was like, 'Oh right. I'm on a plane,'" Khatib said.
The mom and baby were cleaned up and moved up into the business class seats to give them more space. The baby then latched onto her mom and started breastfeeding right away. "Luckily, they were OK," Khatib said.
"The best part is the mom named the baby after me … she named her Miracle Aisha." Khatib traded numbers with the mother and they have kept in touch since then. Before they parted ways, though, the doctor also gave the newborn a gift.
"I had a necklace on that had my name in Arabic on it, so I gave it to her as my namesake. So that she always remembers that she was delivered by a lady named Aisha, up in the air, [when] we were flying above the Nile," she said. "It's pretty spectacular."