During a flight from Geneva to New Delhi via Moscow, Karttikeya Mangalam, a senior undergraduate student of Electrical Engineering in IIT Kanpur, who was on his way from an exchange programme at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland, saved the life of a 30-year-old Type I Diabetes patient.
Working under intense pressure, Mangalam was able to keep his cool and utilise some of the basic engineering lessons he had learnt.
According to Mangalam, the incident began with a commotion inside the plane, mid-flight. Turning back, he found a flight stewardess asking whether there was a doctor onboard. Fortunately, for Thomas, the 30-year-old Type I Diabetes patient from Amsterdam, there was one.
Why was Thomas in need of immediate medical assistance?
He had forgotten his insulin injecting device inside a deposit tray at the security check area of the Moscow international airport. The device was specifically calibrated for his insulin requirements, and it had been five hours since he had taken his last dose. The blood sugar levels in Thomas’s body had shot up to levels way beyond normal, and he was on the verge of passing out.
The doctor on the flight was also a diabetic and had his insulin medication with him, but unfortunately for Thomas, both the dosage and chemical composition of the insulin in possession with the doctor was different from what he required.
Moreover, the insulin cartridges with Thomas did not fit the injecting device (insulin pen) that the doctor had. Keeping Thomas’s dire situation in mind, the doctor went ahead and administered the insulin.
After an hour, Mangalam woke up to discover that Thomas’s health had begun to deteriorate even further. He had passed out with foam all over his mouth.
Acknowledging the gravity of the situation, the doctor asked the flight crew to conduct an emergency landing at the Kazakhstan-Afghanistan border so that Thomas could receive immediate medical attention.
Talking to Mangalam, the doctor said that if Thomas did not receive immediate medical attention, there was a chance that he could die. The flight crew, meanwhile, said that it would take an hour for the plane to land. That is when Mangalam decided to take a look at the insulin pen.
Under this pressure cooker situation, he first asked the stewardess for access to the premium Wi-Fi connection that only business class passengers could use. Once online, he looked up a manual and found a large engineering drawing style diagram describing how every part of the insulin pen fits with the other. Remembering lessons from the engineering drawing class he took during the first year of college, Mangalam began to open the pen, methodically.
“I realised that somehow there were only 12 parts in it, while the diagram clearly showed 13 different parts. On cross-checking, I realised that it was missing a spring that coiled before the cartridge and was essential to transfer the push motion from the back to the needle in front. To troubleshoot this, I searched around Thomas’ seat and in the aisle area nearby to find the spring but in vain,” he writes in an article describing the incident.
Instead of panicking, Mangalam instructed the stewardess to ask other passengers for ballpoint pens, which often have a spring in them. Within minutes, the stewardess collected 4-5 pens, which Mangalam began to examine and fortunately found a spring which perfectly fit with the other parts.
“Quickly, I reassembled the pen and gave it back to the doctor. He adjusted the dose, changed the needle and injected the proper dosage of Thomas’s insulin. In about another 15 minutes, his blood sugar levels stopped rising and then started coming down, the doctor reported,” writes Mangalam, narrating the incident.
Karttikeya Mangalam, a final year electrical engineering BTech student, saves life of a 30-year-old Dutch national using his basic engineering acumen. #IITK feels proud to share his story in his own words.https://t.co/SmHjYFUI2n pic.twitter.com/ybnRp19K3f
— IIT Kanpur (@IITKanpur) May 7, 2018
The doctor, meanwhile, told the stewardess that there was no need for an emergency landing. When Thomas regained consciousness, Mangalam narrated the entire sequence of events. When the plane landed in Delhi, Mangalam accompanied Thomas to the Medanta hospital in Gurugram for a check-up.
“On the stretcher in the ambulance, he thanked me a lot and told me to come visit him in Amsterdam where he owns a restaurant and brewery. I supposedly will receive as much free food and beer as I want when I come,” Mangalam quips.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)