Gannett Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON -- A California congressman put his medical training to good use early Thursday when he saved an ailing passenger's life while flying back home.
Rep. Raul Ruiz said he was the only doctor who responded to a call from the flight crew for a medical expert after a man in his 60s fainted in his seat about 30 minutes after American Airlines Flight 175 took off from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport en route to the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
When the freshman Democrat, a Harvard-trained emergency physician, a fireman on board and flight attendants reached the man, he'd fallen to the floor and had cold sweats and a weak pulse. He woke up a few minutes later and collapsed for another brief spell.
The impromptu medical team stabilized him and checked his blood-sugar levels after the man's wife disclosed he's diabetic. The glucose readings were normal, which led Ruiz to rule out low sugars as the cause. He said further tests are needed to pinpoint the reason, but suggested that a stroke or some other cardiac problem could be the culprit.
The flight was diverted to Raleigh-Durham International Airport, where paramedics took the man to the hospital.
If not for the emergency landing, "the possibilities could've been catastrophic for him," Ruiz said in an interview from Dallas/Fort Worth before boarding a later connecting flight after having missed the original one to Palm Springs International Airport.
"The important thing is that he's OK. The paramedics and the flight attendants and the fireman, we all worked well as a team," Ruiz said. "By the time we landed, he was awake and talking ... The fireman and I stayed by his side for the rest of the entire trip."
Ruiz declined to share the man's contact information citing doctor-patient confidentiality rules.
"I hope he knows that I'm thinking about him and praying for him and that I'm very proud of the fireman and the flight attendants who did an incredible job," Ruiz said. "I was just glad to be part of the team."
American Airlines spokeswoman Mary Frances Fagan confirmed in an email that the flight made an "unscheduled landing" at Raleigh-Durham International Airport "because a passenger was having a medical issue." The flight, which carried 125 passengers and a crew of five, remained in Raleigh for 47 minutes before taking off for Dallas/Fort Worth, Fagan wrote.
Ruiz's skill impressed Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Texas, who was also on Flight 175.
"Hope @CongressmanRuiz is on all my flights home," he tweeted, using Ruiz's Twitter handle. "An emergency room dr by training, was impressive to see him in action. He saves lives!"
Ruiz and his chief of staff, Kyle Layman, were headed to Southern California on the early-morning flight after the House finished its work for the week on Wednesday.
Ruiz, the son of migrant workers who lives in Palm Desert, upset former GOP Rep. Mary Bono Mack during last November's elections despite never having run for elective office. The first in his family to attend college, Ruiz graduated from the University of California-Los Angeles and earned three graduate degrees from Harvard University -- one each in medicine, public policy and public health.