Emergency medical care in flight leads to surprise at skin cancer screening

The Academy is asking members to submit stories about skin cancer screenings to feature in our SPOT Skin Cancer campaign during National Skin Cancer Awareness Month in May. Below is an inspiring story from Ahmad Subhi Jabbar, MD, a PGY3 dermatology resident in New Orleans.

ahmad_jabbar.jpgBy Ahmad Subhi Jabbar, MD

‪While in a semi-conscious state flying from New York, I was stirred by a ring on the airplane's PA system: “If there is a doctor on board, please press the overhead call button.” ‬

After a moment of hesitation, I took a deep breath and tentatively reached for the button. It lit up, and I knew there was no backing out at that point. A flight attendant quickly approached and requested that I go with her toward the front of the plane. I followed her, periodically locking eyes with my fellow passengers who collectively portrayed a look of admiration and hope. I was anxious to offer my assistance, yet uncertain if I would be able to provide proper care, quickly trying to recall my ACLS medical training for emergency situations.

I arrived to witness an elderly gentleman actively having a seizure. A medical kit was provided to me, and I started to take vitals. As the passenger was traveling alone, I was unable to obtain a medical history; however, given his age, I opted to check his glucose (sugar) levels for a possible causative factor. It was a low 37. Within five minutes of arrival, I set up for IV access to administer fluids and glucose.

Fortunately, the passenger stopped seizing (albeit he remained in a disoriented state), as we neared our destination. Upon arrival, medical personnel quickly came on board to transport the patient to a local hospital. I went home that night praying the passenger made it out okay.‬

He proceeded to break down in tears and reached for a hug. I, too, became teary-eyed.


Fast-forward about two months later while in clinic. I called my next patient in for his annual skin cancer screening. The patient looked familiar, but upon reviewing his records, I concluded that he had not been a patient of mine in the past. We must have met in passing, I thought to myself.

We engaged in conversation, but he seemed quite reserved. I asked him how his day is going, while performing a physical exam. “It's fine,” he responded. He went on to ask where I'm from.

“Born and raised in New Orleans,” I responded back.

He clarified himself, “Yeah, but what's your background?”

“I am Palestinian-American, sir,” I answered with a joyful smile.

At that same moment, I noticed him wearing a unique necklace and then realized that this man was the same person I helped on the flight two months before. But I continued with my exam to avoid distraction and kept this discovery to myself.

“I'm Israeli,” he stated in reference to my previous answer.

Many emotions were running through my mind at that moment. I couldn't resist any longer. I had to at least make him aware of who I was.

“Sir, I'm glad you made it out of that plane okay. I'm the one who helped you.”

He stared at me for a good 10 seconds, although it seemed like a century, and sat back down. He proceeded to break down in tears and reached for a hug. I, too, became teary-eyed. He expressed his gratitude toward my part in giving him a second chance at life.

“We are all human,” I told him, “and we have to love each other as equals.” He nodded in agreement, gave me another hug, wiped away his last tear, and departed.‬

Submit your skin cancer screening story!