On the United flight to LAX airport, he gave CPR to a man who was dying of COVID-19

It started as normally as an airplane flight could during a pandemic.

United Airlines flight 591, carrying 164 people, took off from Orlando, Florida, on December 14, for a routine 5 ½ hour trip to Los Angeles.

But as the plane glided over Louisiana, a passenger felt short of breath. Soon, Isaias Hernandez, 69, a Los Angeles resident, was lying in the corridor, indifferent.

The flight attendants made a call over the intercom, asking if there were any doctors or nurses on board.

Two passengers had already started administering the CPR when Tony Aldapa, eight rows ahead of Hernandez, offered to help.

Aldapa is a Navy veteran and emergency medical technician who works at a Veterans Affairs medical center in West Los Angeles, so he is well trained to deal with a crisis like this.

“Regardless of COVID … he needed CPR to save his life,” said Aldapa, 31. “I knew we were too far from where we needed to land and the CPR is exhausting with one or two people. Even with three or four people, it is not an easy thing to do. “

The pilots made an emergency landing in New Orleans. Hernandez was sent to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead, according to a statement from United Airlines.

At the time, medical professionals told airline officials that he was experiencing heart problems, according to United Airlines.

Passengers had the option of taking a later plane to Los Angeles, according to the statement, but they all chose to continue on the flight.

At least one person on board she suspected Hernandez’s reason for becoming ill. The coroner in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, confirmed this suspicion a week later, listing “acute respiratory failure; COVID-19 “as the cause of death.

The flight tragedy triggered a flood of questions and accusations. Since then, Aldapa has developed mild symptoms similar to those of COVID, including headache, fatigue, body aches and a mild cough, although he has tested negative three times.

He said that United called him on Sunday, but that he was not contacted by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The LA County Department of Public Health also did not contact him, he said. In a statement to The Times, the department declined to comment on its involvement in the investigation and contact tracking effort, saying only that “it will continue to work with the CDC to notify patients as appropriate.”

The CDC did not respond to requests for information.

United said it is sharing information about the incident with the CDC.

“The health and safety of our employees and customers is our highest priority, which is why we have several policies and procedures in place, such as mask orders and requiring customers to complete a ‘Ready to fly’ checklist before the flight, recognizing that they have not been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the last 14 days and have no symptoms related to COVID, ”said the statement from United Airlines.

Like all United passengers, Hernandez signed the checklist before boarding. But its history underlines that the security measure is not infallible.

Aldapa does not blame the airline. Even precautions like temperature checks, which have not been implemented, cannot be detected in all COVID-19 cases, he said.

On the plane, Aldapa and the other two passengers took turns to perform chest compressions and use a bag-type valve mask to deliver oxygen. There was no word of mouth resuscitation, he said. The crew was present, offering supplies, including gloves, disinfectant and water.

After a few laps in chest compressions, Aldapa realized that he had been sitting beside the man’s wife during breaks. He struck up a conversation, asking about her husband’s medical history, any recent exposure to COVID-19 and any tests for the virus.

She told him that her husband was short of breath and that he planned to take the test when they returned home, Aldapa said.

When the plane made an emergency landing in New Orleans, a medical device used by the volunteers recorded that 47 minutes had passed since they started CPR, Aldapa said.

Aldapa said he thought about the possibility of contracting the coronavirus, with his work in the emergency room preparing him to assume that anyone could have COVID-19.

He said it is a pity that the man who suffered a medical emergency on flight 591 is being criticized on social media for boarding the plane, despite the possible symptoms of COVID-19.

Still, he said, people are responsible for protecting each other as much as themselves.

“Taking a test is not a permission to be there,” he said. “If you’re feeling bad, you should take that into account.”