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August 19, 2011
Calif. doctor saves patient on international flight
Marin Independent Journal
SAN FRANCISCO — A Marin allergy doctor likely saved the life of a passenger aboard an Air France flight last week when the man had a near-deadly reaction to packaged nuts.
Dr. Schuman Tam, a Greenbrae allergist and immunologist, was flying to San Francisco on Aug. 11 after vacationing in Paris when the flight crew asked if there was a doctor on board. A 52-year-old French man sitting in the back of a plane with his family was experiencing anaphylactic shock after eating the bag of almonds served on the plane.
Tam, who lives in Tiburon, said it was obvious the man "was in trouble."
"He was losing consciousness. I took his pulse. I couldn't feel it. That means his blood pressure was very low. When your blood pressure is that low, you don't have enough oxygen going to the brain. It can cause brain damage. He also was having trouble breathing because his asthma was triggered," Tam said.
Tam said he first had to show his medical license to the flight crew to prove he was an authentic doctor. He then reclined the man's chair so he was lying flat, and gave him a shot of epinephrine, taken from the plane's emergency kit. The man ultimately needed three more shots, and about five hours of observation to make sure he didn't relapse, Tam said.
The emergency occurred about an hour into the 11-hour flight, and the pilot asked Tam if he should fly the plane back to Paris. Tam said no, because the man was improving and he felt he could handle any recurrent reactions.
"It was the man's first time coming to San Francisco for vacation," said Tam's wife, May, a nurse who was also on the flight along with the couple's daughter, Angela. "He was with his wife and teenage daughters. He was really excited and said he thought he'd have a couple of nuts."
The man said later he knew he was allergic to cashews, but thought it would be OK to eat the almonds, Dr. Tam said. The bag likely had been contaminated with remnants of cashews, he said.
Untreated, it's possible he could have died within half an hour, Dr. Tam said.
The doctor said he was just glad to help "considering that's what you do when you're in the field of medicine."
"But I didn't get much sleep during the flight," he added.
He did, however, get a bottle of French wine from a stewardess as a thank you, and the pilot called him back to the cockpit to personally thank him during the flight.
"The man and his family said a lot of 'merci beau coups,'" Tam said.
Copyright 2011 Marin Independent Journal, a MediaNews Group publication
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