Emergency on helicopter as Nepal quake victim stops breathing

Story highlights

  • CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta was aboard an aid flight when a woman's pulse stopped
  • Sabina Lama was injured when a ceiling fell on her during the Nepal earthquake
  • Gupta gave her a 'cardiac thump' when she couldn't be roused

Kathmandu, Nepal (CNN)"Please take her," people cried over the roar of the helicopter propellers as the flight was about to take off from one of the Nepali districts worst-hit by the earthquake.

The Indian helicopter had just dropped aid to people forced to fend for themselves for days after the quake, in Sindhupalchok, east of the capital Kathmandu.
CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta and a crew were aboard the flight, packed with instant noodles and tarps being delivered to people who no longer had -- or trusted -- a roof over their heads.
    The pilots hadn't expected to take on any passengers, but as they were about to take off, a woman lying on a makeshift straw stretcher was thrust toward the door.
    Her name is Sabina Lama.
    Soldiers carry Sabina on a makeshift straw stretcher in Kathmandu, April 30, 2015.

    Emergency on board

    Sabina, 18, was a new mother, and as Gupta examined her it soon became clear she had no feeling or movement in her legs.
    She'd been badly injured during the quake.
    But no one expected what happened next.
    Minutes into the flight, Sabina stopped breathing.
    "We could no longer detect a pulse -- either in her wrist or in her neck. I checked her pupils, and tried desperately to rouse her, as we blasted over the countryside," Gupta recounted.
    There was no defibrillator on the helicopter that could be used to give a jolt to kick-start her heart, no fluids, no first aid kit, no medical equipment to deal with an emergency such as this.
    Sabina would die without proper medical care.
    With few options left, Gupta delivered a sharp blow to her chest.
    "It is aggressive -- but I just delivered a 'cardiac thump,' a quick, strong hit to the chest in a last ditch effort to shock Sabina's heart back into action."
    It wasn't clear if it was the blow that did it, but either way, Sabina came back.
    Dr. Sanjay Gupta checks Sabina's pulse on board a helicopter flight from her quake-hit village, April 30, 2015.

    Flight to safety

    Sabina's pulse returned as the helicopter raced to a makeshift hospital high in the mountains where the crew picked up an IV drip to give her fluids.
    It was tied to the ceiling of the helicopter using a disposable face mask.
    More patients piled in as the helicopter headed to Kathmandu Airport, where ambulances were waiting with stretchers, medicine and other life-saving supplies.
    Amid the chaos, parts of Sabina's story emerged.
    On Saturday, she had been taking her six-week-old son to the health center in her village to get his scheduled vaccinations when the earthquake hit.
    As the earth shook, part of the ceiling collapsed, miraculously missing her baby, but delivering such a violent blow that she lost use of her legs.
    Her husband is now caring for the little boy as his mother receives the help she needs.
    She's just one of more than 13,000 people injured in an earthquake that has killed more than 6,000 people, and devastated a nation.
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