Halfway Around The World With New Friends

Posted on November 30, 2018

It’s often when things don’t go exactly as planned that we learn the most about people. Jennifer Swinehart certainly feels that way about the AirMed International crew that flew her from China to Ohio, with an unexpected delay in Tokyo.

“One of the pilots said to me, ‘You know, normally we pick up a patient and drop off a patient,’” Jennifer says. “‘But because we’ve spent 2 ½ days in Tokyo, we picked up a patient and dropped off a friend.’ And that’s really how they treated me.”

Jennifer was visiting friends in China, where she’d previously taught, when she became violently ill – first with chills, then a fever, then back pain that left her doubled over. She spent most of the next 18 hours in a hospital and clinic, but doctors were unable to figure out what was wrong.

Back at her hotel, Jennifer telephoned her husband in the United States, who immediately arranged to come get her. But she was in no condition to travel, spending two more weeks in a Beijing hospital, where she was treated for a strep infection in her spine.

When she was well enough to travel, Jennifer’s insurance company, United Healthcare, sent AirMed to bring her back home. Shortly after landing in Beijing, two members of the AirMed crew went to Jennifer’s hospital room to tell her and her husband what they could expect when departing the next day.

The crew was back the next morning to oversee Jennifer’s move via ambulance and stretcher to the AirMed medical jet, a Hawker 800. After flying to Tokyo, crew members told Jennifer they were concerned about continuing on before warning lights on the plane could be checked out. They recommended delaying, asking Jennifer if she was okay with that decision, or in too much pain.

“I was impressed with this, that they came and talked to me,” says Jennifer, who agreed with the crew’s decision. While they were waiting for the needed aircraft maintenance, bad weather developed at their next fuel stop in Russia.

Until the plane and weather were travel ready, AirMed crew member Tara Lawley, who’s a registered nurse, stayed in a Tokyo hotel room with Jennifer, administering medication and otherwise taking care of her. The AirMed crew’s respiratory therapist and pilots periodically checked on the pair as well.

Jennifer is extremely grateful that she did not have to check into a Japanese hospital, where it is unlikely that the medications that had already been prescribed to her could have been administered without another round of examinations, tests and bills.

Despite the longer layover in Japan, the AirMed crew delivered Jennifer home to Columbus, Ohio, via Russia, Anchorage and Billings, Mont.

Jennifer is back on her feet and planning her next trip, with her husband, to Nova Scotia. For anybody who travels internationally and unfortunately falls ill, she said AirMed is a godsend.

“They did fantastic by me. The fact that Tara did that so I did not have to go in a strange hospital and be there for two-and-a-half days, not knowing anybody and not speaking the language, I can’t begin to say how impressed I was. I kept teasing Tara. I said, ‘You are just a bulldog for your patients because I know you fought for what is best for me.’”