While some believe that the knowledge we gain from studying our academic courses is hardly put to use, this incident in Karttikeya Mangalam’s life proves the opposite. Mangalam, who is a senior undergraduate student of Electrical Engineering at IIT Kanpur was on his way back after completing his course at École Polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland as an exchange student, saved the life of a patient onboard an aircraft that was bound from Geneva to New Delhi via Moscow.
The patient whose life Mangalam saved was from Amsterdam, Thomas is a 30-year-old Type 1 diabetic who had forgotten his insulin injection which he had kept in a tray at Moscow airport during the security check.
“My flight was about half full and luckily, the seats adjoining mine were empty. For the first three hours or so, I was enjoying the solitude when I heard an air hostess enquiring whether there is a doctor onboard to deal with a medical emergency that is happening. After a few minutes, I saw a middle-aged white Russian guy coming from the front part of the plane in a hurry. I realised that he’s a doctor and the man in need of medical attention is seated just two rows behind me,” writes Mangalam.
Karttikeya Mangalam, a final year electrical engineering BTech student, saves life of a 30-year-old Dutch national using his basic engineering acumen. #IITK feels proud to share his story in his own words.https://t.co/SmHjYFUI2n pic.twitter.com/ybnRp19K3f
— IIT Kanpur (@IITKanpur) May 7, 2018
Thomas had taken his last insulin shot five hours ago and his blood sugar levels had spiked drastically – he was on the verge of passing out.
Mangalam further writes, “The doctor tried to calm him down and explained to the hostess that he needed urgent insulin or he would pass out with possibly multiple organ failures and coma or worse. I personally think it created more panic than helping the situation. Anyway, Thomas already had some cartridges of short-term fast working insulin with him, all he needed was a method to inject them.”
The doctor who himself was a diabetic who injected insulin through a ‘pen-esque’ contraption to himself. Mangalam explains, “It consisted of a transparent centre part where the insulin cartridge loads, a dial on top of it to adjust the dosage and a pen-like pushing mechanism that plunges out a small but sharp needle from the pen’s front that is then injected into the patient.”
The doctor had multiple spare needles but Thomas’ cartridges were thinner and wouldn’t fit the insulin-pen. Also, the doctor’s insulin was chemically different and slow-working. That is not what Thomas usually took. Nevertheless, the insulin was administered to Thomas and thinking that the emergency was dealt with, Mangalam went back to sleep.
But that was not the case – an hour or so later Mangalam woke up to find out that Thomas’ health was deteriorating. He had passed out and some kind of white foam was forming on the corner of his mouth. Furthermore, he states, “Hearing this, I went to his seat, where the doctor was already present and with his permission, I opened up his insulin pen. He explained to me that Thomas is unconscious and might have severe life risk if not injected with the effective insulin as soon as possible. He said that over the years Thomas might have developed some chemical resistance to the insulin he had administered and his blood sugar levels have risen to mid 30s from the starting 20s, an hour earlier. On asking what he was trying with the pen, he said that he knows a way to adjust the cartridge holding tube’s diameter and he’s going to use it to inject Thomas’ own insulin. However, when he was finished with this and tried to push the pen’s cap so that the needle would come out to inject, the needle wouldn’t bulge!”
This created panic. The crew had decided to do an emergency landing at the Kazakhstan-Afghanistan border. This is when Mangalam sprung into action. He asked for the premium WiFi access that is only given to business class passengers and found out the sketches of the insulin pen online. That is when he got to know that one part was missing which was the reason why the needle did not bulge. That part was a spring!
What happened after is the most interesting part that will surprise you. Let’s hear it in Mangalam’s own words:
“I realised that somehow there were only 12 parts in it now while the diagram clearly showed 13 different parts. On cross-checking I realised that it was missing a spring that coiled before the cartridge and was essential to transfer the push motion from the back to the needle in front. To troubleshoot this, I searched around Thomas’ seat and in the aisle area nearby to find the spring but in vain. All the while the plane was descending and the doctor had just vanished somewhere whom I couldn’t find.
Keeping a cool head, I instructed the air hostess to ask the passengers for ballpoint pens, which usually have a spring in them. In a few minutes, I got 4-5 pens from the anxious passengers who I believe were themselves terrified at the thought of landing in that terror-stricken region. Luckily, on trying out a few I found one that perfectly fits the other parts. Quickly, I reassembled the pen and gave it back to the doctor who by then had re-materialized back nearby. He adjusted the dose, changed the needle and injected the proper dosage of Thomas’ own insulin. In about another 15 minutes, his blood sugar levels stopped rising and then started coming down, the doctor reported. Also, he informed the air hostess that there is no need to land now as Thomas would regain consciousness in due time. The air hostess seemed very relieved to hear this and asked us to help her to transfer Thomas to the business class so he could lie down. Also, she transferred my seat to the business class as some sort of ‘caretaker’. Later on, nearing the end of the flight, Thomas regained consciousness and I narrated the whole incident to him.”
On landing, Mangalam accompanied Thomas to Medanta hospital. On the way, Thomas invited him to his restaurant and brewery in Amsterdam, as he felt grateful.
This is how the knowledge of basic engineering skills saved a man’s life – even engineers can save lives!