Administrator Calls on Old Training in a Medical Emergency
One in a continuing series
When Lamont Louis was young, he’d envisioned becoming a doctor. But he wound up getting an MBA instead of an MD and is an administrative executive at Einstein Healthcare Network. Recently, though, he had a brief chance to practice a little medicine.
Louis, the Chief Operating Officer of Einstein Physicians Philadelphia, was returning to Philadelphia from an anniversary trip to Mexico with his wife, when a flight attendant made a tense announcement: a passenger was having a medical crisis. Were there any medical professionals on board who could help?
Louis had clinical training as a paramedic in the Navy, and he also knew help was a phone call away. A year earlier, when a fellow patron in a movie theater had a seizure, he had intervened and called Steven Sivak, MD, Chief Medical Officer of Einstein Physicians Philadelphia, who guided him through the incident until the ambulance arrived.
So when the flight attendant made the announcement a second time and no one responded, “I got up and said, ‘What’s going on?’” he says.
Relying on Early Training
Louis made his way to the passenger, a mother traveling with her young son and daughter, and saw her arms and legs were in spasm and she was frightened. He dialed Sivak. But the cell phone didn’t work in flight. It was up to him now.
“I just rested upon my clinical knowledge that I obtained many years ago,” he says of his medical experience. “I was a paramedic but did emergency and trauma medicine in the Navy and led an emergency room team in Hawaii.”
The plane had started to descend into Philadelphia, requiring all passengers to remain seated with seatbelts fastened. Louis sent the woman’s 8-year-old daughter back to his wife to care for her, buckled himself into the daughter’s seat and assessed the condition of the mother.
“She had dilated pupils, an elevated heart rate and an involuntary jerking of the limbs,” he says. He asked whether she was a diabetic. No. Was she epileptic? No. When did she last eat or drink? She’d had nothing all day. Louis then asked the attendant to get juice and crackers. He assessed by her symptoms that she may be dehydrated.
Calming Panic and Tension
“At that point, she went into a full-blown panic attack,” he says. “She had difficulty breathing and her hands were shaking uncontrollably.”
Louis took out the airsick bag and cupped it over her mouth and nose, to stop her from hyperventilating. He talked quietly and reassuringly, all the while rubbing her back to calm her down.
Nearby passengers had taken note of what was going on. But tension rose when the woman’s 6-year-old son looked out the window and misconstrued the movement of the wing flaps.
“There’s something wrong with the plane!” he shouted. “The wings are coming apart!” Louis reassured him otherwise and continued tending to the mother.
“She was getting better little by little,” he says. “I talked her heart rate down and kept her breathing into the bag until we landed and they rushed on the emergency crew. I told them what her clinical presentation was and that I thought she may be dehydrated and to consider giving her a bag of fluid.”
And that was that.
It made Louis a little nostalgic to dust off old clinical knowledge and know he was able to be of service to this crew and passenger.
A Change of Direction
Louis had planned to go to medical school to become an orthopedist. But when he graduated high school in Deptford, NJ, where he grew up, he enlisted in the Navy. His grandfather and uncles were Navy veterans.
“The military was a great fit,” he says. “I was a huge athlete out of high school, and the physicality and service to the country were a big appeal.”
Louis got 16 weeks of clinical training in San Diego and practiced emergency medicine in Hawaii before gaining additional training in mass casualty and trauma medicine with the Marines at Camp Pendleton during the nine years he spent as a clinical provider and paramedic.
He went to college while he was enlisted, became a commissioned officer and received special training in healthcare administration in Bethesda. In 1991, after the Persian Gulf War, he resigned his active commission and became a healthcare administrator on the civilian side.
He transferred his commission to the Reserves and retired as a Lieutenant Commander after a 20-year career in 1999. He’s been at Einstein since 2018.
“From time-to-time, I have that question in my mind, ‘What if? ’ Louis says. “My wife, a Spanish medical interpreter by trade who has worked with many physicians over the years, always tells me, ‘I know you’d have been a great doctor.’
“But I’m not one to second guess decisions or outcomes in life. I think things happen for a reason. I’m where I am of value and service, and I’m very happy in my role. I love my job every day, even after 40-plus years in this industry.”
And every now and then, he gets to practice a little medicine.