• Local doctors on-call for in-flight medical emergencies

    Updated:

    PITTSBURGH - Medical emergencies happen on board flights about 50 times a day in the U.S.

    When there is a serious situation, crews rely on doctors here in Pittsburgh to get them through it.

    "Pilot on Flight 699, this is Dr Martin-Gill with UPMC, how do youcopy?" one call says.

    The calls come in high atop UPMC Presbyterian's Oakland Tower.

    They are screened and if a doctor's advice is needed, they are patched in to the Medical Command Center.

    "Suddenly we may have to make a decision about someone who's flying over Africa or the Atlantic," said Dr. Chris Martin-Gill. "We have to make critical life or death decisions about -- do they divert the plane, what kind of medical providers that may have been identified, what kind of medical equipment we have on board, what assistance may need to be provided."

    Channel 11's David Johnson was given an inside look at the command center and learned it is the only such service with a medical doctor on the other end of the line.

    "This is very cool. This is a service that is unique and the fact we have a physician on staff 24/7 is probably unique in the world," said Martin-Gill.

    UPMC contracts with 17 airlines and answers about 27 calls a day, about one an hour.

    Retired flight attendant Kim Towery has dealt with emergencies in the air and spoken to the doctor on the phone in Pittsburgh.

    "It gave me so much assurance, as opposed to talking to a lay person, who may have an opinion. I spoke to a doctor," she said.

    Back on board Flight 699, that unconscious passenger was alert and OK.

    "They're somewhere hundreds of miles away, flying over the eastern seaboard," (Martin-Gill?) said.

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