Doctor Channels MacGyver to Help Asthmatic Toddler Aboard Transatlantic Flight

Dr. Khurshid Guru said the toddler was struggling to breathe on the flight.

ByABC News
September 24, 2015, 3:50 PM

— -- A New York doctor became a hero in the skies recently when he turned into a medical MacGyver by creating a device that helped an asthmatic toddler struggling to breathe during a transatlantic flight.

Dr. Khurshid Guru, director of Robotic Surgery at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute, told ABC News he was aboard a transatlantic Air Canada flight from Spain to the U.S. on Sept. 18 when he was notified of a toddler in trouble.

Guru said he found the 2-year-old boy crying and short of breath and his parents said they accidentally packed his asthma medication in checked luggage.

"The child had developed a cold," Guru said. "We were three or four hours into the flight. I think the cold and popping of the ears and crying. ... He got worse."

Word of his ingenuity got out after he tweeted a photo of the device he made.

After putting an oxygen meter on the child, Guru said he was disturbed to find the child's oxygen level was dipping down to a dangerously low level -- about 87 or 88 percent. Guru, who normally doesn't treat pediatric patients, said he knew he needed to do something quickly.

Guru said he knew the child needed oxygen but also asthma medication, but the plane only had an adult inhaler on board. Guru was concerned the crying toddler was too young to understand how to use the adult inhaler that requires the patient to breathe and hold in the medication. Instead the doctor, who normally works with high-tech robots to treat patients, came up with a jerry-rigged device similar to a nebulizer that would deliver both oxygen and asthma medication to the crying child.

To create the nebulizer, the surgeon cut up a water bottle and added oxygen to one end and the adult inhaler through a small hole in the bottle. That way the oxygen and medication could be delivered through the bottle's opening directly to the child.

"As the bottle went near to the child's face, he pushed it away," Guru said. "I got a water cup and made a hole in the bottle and focused it to his face ... told [the parents] to keep it there. Within about half an hour and two treatments he was sounding much better."

After the very unusual treatment, the child's oxygen level was around 94 or 95 percent, Guru said. "When I was landing, I checked the child and he was playing with the mom," he said.

Guru said he wanted to share the story as a reminder to parents of asthmatic children to always keep their vital medication nearby.

"I told the father then that the most important thing is that you never ever leave these medications away," he told ABC News. "I wanted to make sure that everyone realized that we need to carry these things."

Air Canada thanked Guru for his work.

"We typically cannot discuss customer matters for privacy reasons," a company spokesman said in a statement. "Nonetheless, we are deeply appreciative of the doctor’s efforts and for his actions assisting one of our customers."

Guru said he might have to start getting used to being called for help. During each of his last three transatlantic flights, he said he's been asked to help a sick patient on board.