LA Doctors Returning from Super Bowl 55 Helped Save Woman's Life on Plane

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistFebruary 19, 2021

FILE - In this May 8, 2019, file photo, a Boeing 737 MAX 8 jetliner being built for Turkish Airlines takes off on a test flight in Renton, Wash. Boeing says it has finished with its updates to the flight-control software implicated in two deadly crashes involving its 737 Max, moving a step closer to getting the plane back in the sky. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

Nilesh Vora, Rahim Govani and Salima Thobani, three Los Angeles-based doctors who attended Super Bowl LV as part of the NFL's celebration of health care workers amid the coronavirus pandemic, helped save the life of a fellow passenger on their return flight to L.A. 

Jourdan Rodrigue of The Athletic detailed their efforts Friday, less than two weeks after they were called to action during the Feb. 7 red-eye flight from Miami to Los Angeles.

Blanca Diaz, an L.A. resident in her 60s with asthma, began to feel a sensation she described as an "elephant sitting on her chest" and she tried to use the plane's oxygen mask with her husband, Benito, and a flight attendant concerned she was having an asthma attack.

Vora, Govani and Thobani responded to a call over the intercom seeking any medical personnel on board to help with an emergency and were forced to use airline medical equipment that was either broken or not working properly while trying to diagnose Diaz's condition, according to Rodrigue.

The doctors were unable to pinpoint the exact issue but came to the conclusion it wasn't an asthma attack and told the pilot they believed she needed immediate medical attention and advised the plane should be diverted, which it was—to Houston.

Rodrigue noted, after an hours-long delay, the plane carrying the doctors and the remaining passengers resumed its flight back to Los Angeles, and Diaz was rushed to the Memorial Hermann Hospital emergency room in Houston.

Govani told The Athletic he made contact with an ER doctor at the hospital who said Diaz suffered a life-threatening tension pneumothorax—when air trapped in the lung cavity causes a collapsed lung—and applauded the doctors' decision to have the plane change course rather than continue to L.A.:

"It was so much of a pneumothorax that it had started to push the heart to the other side. The ER doctor told me, 'Thank God you guys diverted the plane. She would have died. She almost died on the way to the hospital.' And the [X-ray] says 1,000 words. He got approval from the family to send the picture, and you can see an entire collapse of one lung. She's only living off one lung, and you can only do that for a short amount of time. And everything is getting shifted to the other side. Even 30 minutes more..."

Diaz has since been discharged from the hospital. Her daughter traveled to Houston, and the family is currently waiting out the winter storm that struck Texas this week before heading back to Los Angeles, where they hope to reunite with the trio of doctors.

Vora, Govani and Thobani were among the 7,500 health care workers invited to the Super Bowl as guests of the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell.

"These dedicated health care workers continue to put their own lives at risk to serve others, and we owe them our ongoing gratitude," Goodell said. "We hope in a small way that this initiative will inspire our country and recognize these true American heroes. This is also an opportunity to promote the importance of vaccination and appropriate health practices, including wearing masks in public settings."

Govani said the entire experience is an example of the right people being in the right place at the right time.