Dr. Mikhail Varshavski, better known as Dr. Mike, is an Internet celebrity, thanks to his perfect combination of looks and brains. And while this famous doctor usually works in family practice in New Jersey, an emergency on an international flight without the proper resources would soon put him to the ultimate test.
1. The Doctor Is In
He’s a famous doctor for the Internet age. Dr. Mikhail Varshavski, better known as Dr. Mike, is a star of the online world. He’s been all over the news circuit, has 3.2 million Instagram followers and over 4 million YouTube followers.
What’s more, he was voted Sexiest Doctor Alive in People Magazine’s 2015 issue of Sexiest Man Alive, and he’s accomplished all of these remarkable accolades before even having reached the age of 30. But at the end of the day, he’s not about the looks, but the brains — brains that helped him act quickly in an incredible midair emergency.
2. Humble Beginnings
Don’t be fooled by his confident smile: the initial road to success was far from easy for Dr. Mike. He was born in Saransk, Russia, and at age 6, shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, he and his family left the country.
They immigrated to Brooklyn, and the change was rough: his mother had been a math professor, but now had to scrub floors for minimum wage; his doctor father was forced to go through medical school all over again. Inspired by his dad, Mike persevered — and it was about to pay off, big time. He couldn’t have imagined where his path was about to lead.
3. Love For Dad And Dog
After years of hard work studying, Dr. Mike was finally well on track to completing his career goals and finding success as a physician. Yet even as he could see the light at the end of the tunnel and began his residency period, tragedy struck. Dr. Mike’s mother passed away from leukemia.
That led the young doctor to arrive at a critical life decision: to move back in with his father, and to get a dog, a husky named Roxy. It was the choice that would ultimately change his life forever — and put him on the path to saving someone else’s.
4. Mission To The Middle East
It was several years after Dr. Mike and his dog had been ‘discovered’ by Buzzfeed and made into superstars. In July 2019, the famous doctor joined a delegation organized by America’s Voices in Israel. The program has a mission of bringing big names in social media to Israel and show them the country.
Mike went from his home in New Jersey to JFK International Airport, and boarded the flight with a plan: to sleep the entire way so he could best avoid jetlag and the time difference. But what was about to happen was going to alter his journey completely.
5. Adventure Time
Also on board the flight was Matt Faraco, a 26-year-old from Atlanta, Georgia. Matt was flying across the world to participate in Taglit Birthright, a non-profit organization that takes Jewish young adults from around the world to experience Israel for 10 days.
He was feeling a bit tired, as he hadn’t slept well the night before, nor during the journey from his home in Atlanta to JFK, where he joined up with his group trip. But Matt had no inkling of what was about to happen to him — or how frightening the long international flight was about to become.
6. Something’s Not Right
Initially, it seemed like the long Transatlantic flight was going to be rather uneventful. About two hours into the transatlantic Delta flight to Tel Aviv, the first in-flight meal was served, but Matt didn’t eat it. He didn’t drink anything other than water.
But even as he attempted to settle in and pass the time of the flight, Matt couldn’t help but notice that something strange was beginning to happen to his body — and he called for the flight attendant. Over in a different part of the plane, Dr. Mike was asleep, barefoot and snuggled up in his hoodie, blissfully unaware of the situation that was about to unfold.
7. In Need Of Assistance
Matt informed the Delta flight attendant that he was not feeling well. He had noticed his hands were strangely beginning to swell up, likely an allergic reaction to something, made all the more bizarre by the fact that he hadn’t eaten anything.
The flight attendants took action quickly, asking that question we all feel like we’ve seen only on TV: “Is there a doctor onboard?” Naturally, as it turned out, they were in luck: they not only happened to have a physician on the flight to Israel, but he happened to be a famous doctor. But this was just the beginning of their ordeal.
8. Precautionary Measures
Matt informed his fellow passenger, Dr. Mike that he had brought with him some steroids and Benadryl, as a precautionary measure. The night before his flight from Atlanta to New York, he had felt a light allergic reaction to something, which presented as watery eyes among other things.
He had put it down to be nothing serious, just an annoyance that would require taking some medicine just to be on the safe side. Dr. Mike recommended that Matt should take the Benadryl now before anything else. He then went back to his seat. What was about to happen, however, proved it was far more serious than a mere allergy.
9. Rapid Escalation
About 15 minutes after he had initially reported his situation to Dr. Mike, Matt’s health took a nosedive. It had started with hands swelling, an annoyance but not something to be too alarmed about. Now, whatever was ailing him had clearly spread to other systems. His condition was rapidly deteriorating.
Most frightening of all, he felt that his throat was beginning to close. Matt was clearly suffering from anaphylactic shock. It would have been terrifying enough had he been on the ground, but this international flight was well into its journey over the vast expanses of the Atlantic Ocean, with land nowhere in sight.
As a result of a severe allergic reaction, the body’s immune system sends out a wave of chemicals. These cause a crash in blood pressure, and airways in the body constrict. The various signs of anaphylactic shock include feeling dizzy or nauseous, even to the point of vomiting.
Itchy hives can manifest on the skin, but most dangerous and frightening of all, the throat and/or tongue can swell, blocking the passageways needed for breathing. Matt’s life was in grave danger, and he needed direct intervention as quickly as possible to help him breathe normally. It was time to take immediate action.
The famous doctor was now about to put his medical prowess and quick thinking skills to the ultimate test. Dr. Mike raced over to help Matt. His first priority was to open his patient’s throat and ensure he could breathe normally and without obstruction.
To help do that, he would need an EpiPen, which was pre-designed to deliver the right dosage of epinephrine to Matt and release his airways from the grip of the severe allergic reaction. It was a simple enough solution for the life-threatening health issue, but the situation was more complicated. There was just one massive problem.
12. Without Tools
Dr. Mike quickly discovered that there was no EpiPen available aboard the Delta flight. He needed epinephrine to relax Matt’s throat muscles and allow him to breathe as soon as he possibly could. The chemical raises blood pressure and causes the body’s blood vessels to become dilated, forcing the constricted airways back open.
When Dr. Mike realized there was no EpiPen available on board the flight, his reaction was purely human. As he would admit later on, even this famous doctor couldn’t help but begin to freak out given the circumstances. He quickly realized just how slim his options were.
13. Making Do
There was no EpiPen on board, but instead, Dr. Mike was presented with the required first-aid kit available on Delta flights. He found that there was indeed a sample of epinephrine provided inside, along with a needle. The problem was, the epinephrine was not measured out.
The clear advantage of an EpiPen is that it has precisely the right amount already prepared. Too much or too little of a dosage of epinephrine could prove to be fatal for the patient. And if all else failed, there was one other option to help save Matt’s life — a far more dangerous one.
14. Debating The Dosage
Because the epinephrine in the medical kit was not properly dosed to treat anaphylactic shock, it was all too easy to mess up the dosage and accidentally give too much, regardless of whether or not a medical professional was involved in the process. That could result in Matt having a heart attack.
If it didn’t work, Dr. Mike would soon be forced to make a very difficult and precise impromptu surgery in Matt’s throat in order to open it, with equipment that was far from optimal. Whatever was going to happen, first he had to bring Matt to the front of the plane.
15. Attending The Patient
Dr. Mike needed space to work on his patient. He found a secure place by the cockpit where he could take care of Matt’s condition with as much privacy as possible on a commercial flight. According to his own words, the famous doctor hadn’t encountered a scenario like this since he was in med school.
Reticent to carry out the surgery but still needing to verify the technique he might have to use, he even tried in vain to connect his phone to the in-flight WiFi. He wanted to quickly find some videos to watch on the subject so he could make a more informed professional decision.
16. Go Time
The throat surgery to open Matt’s airways would be a last-ditch effort, but first they had to try the epinephrine sample provided in the airline’s first-aid kit, see what would happen, and act accordingly. Together with the flight attendants, Dr. Mike doled out a dose of epinephrine and drew it into the needle.
He had taken his patient to a more secluded part of the plane, because they would have to take off his pants in order to administer the injection. Dr. Mike prepared the needle — and injected Matt in the leg. Now was the moment of truth: would it work?
17. Procedure By The Cockpit
Though it was the best option, the leg was a particularly painful place to receive the necessary epinephrine injection, and as a result, Matt couldn’t help but begin to scream. Dr. Mike withdrew the needle, and handed Matt an alcohol-soaked sterile pad, asking him to apply pressure to the site of the injection to stem the bleeding.
As they watched, the epinephrine began to take effect, opening Matt’s airways, and all involved could at least breathe a sigh of relief, at least for the time being. As Matt began to be able to breathe more normally, the flight attendants had an urgent question for Dr. Mike.
18. Emergency Landing?
Even though the epinephrine had successfully allowed Matt to breathe normally again, it could not yet be determined whether or not he was fully in the clear. The flight attendants needed to know if the Dr. Mike felt his patient would be stable. If not, then they would be forced to make a landing.
The problem was, the plane was flying over the Atlantic Ocean, far from land. They would have to either turn back to Canada, or surge forward and make an emergency landing in Portugal. Ultimately, Dr. Mike was confident Matt was going to be okay. But that didn’t stop him from worrying.
19. Traveling Worried
Though he had planned to use the long trip to sleep and catch up on the time difference between New York and Israel, for the rest of the flight, Dr. Mike wasn’t able to nap. He got up every half hour to go check on his patient, Matt.
He monitored Matt’s vital signs, and even whipped out his iPhone and turned out the flashlight feature on it just to be certain that Matt’s throat was fully open. He told Matt that once they landed in Israel, he ought to get to an emergency room for a better examination — not to mention find himself an EpiPen. Yet one major question remained.
20. Arriving In Israel
After monitoring Matt’s condition closely for up to five hours, Dr. Mike felt comfortable returning him to his seat, informing the Birthright counselors what was going on, and to come grab him if anything took a turn for the worse.
Thankfully, the Delta Airlines flight landed at Ben Gurion Airport in Israel without a hitch — and Dr. Mike’s seatmates thanked him, though not for the act of having saved Matt’s life! They were merely glad the plane didn’t have to be rerouted at his order. Meanwhile, Matt went to the hospital, to try and figure out exactly what was wrong with him. The answer was extraordinary.
21. After The Examination
Matt’s Birthright counselors and fellow trip participants had been apprised as to his situation by Dr. Mike. All involved were still curious as to what could have possibly caused such a severe allergic attack on Matt’s system, seemingly out of nowhere.
Following a secondary doctor’s checkup in Israel, the medical staff decided they had pinpointed the source of his allergic reaction. Matt’s system had reacted violently to ingesting red meat. The thing was, he hadn’t eaten on the flight. But several things that had happened to him in Georgia prior to leaving for Birthright had directly impacted the in-flight drama.
22. Red Meat
The night before his flight to join his travel group, Matt happened to have eaten a dinner with copious amounts of red meat. Matt normally didn’t tend to eat red meat, but his system hadn’t been shocked by the red meat quantities, and the absence of red meat in his diet would not have been enough to elicit such a strong response from his immune system.
His body had rejected the red meat itself, but the reaction had been delayed. There was a different culprit that had probably set off a chain of events directly responsible for his allergic episode — and it was a creepy one.
23. Bug Bite Blues
Some time before he had eaten the red meat and flown from Atlanta to New York, Matt had been bitten in the woods by a species of the parasitic tick known as the lone star tick, so-called because of the silver spot on its back. This species, found across the southeastern United States, can cause more than an invasive bite.
The aftereffects of the bite meant that Matt’s body had developed an extreme allergy to alpha-gal, a substance in mammal flesh. Now that they had pinpointed the cause, Matt was free to enjoy the rest of his Birthright experiences in Israel. But there was one piece missing.
24. Dr. Mike’s Trip
Dr. Mike enjoyed his time with the delegation going around Israel. A particularly poignant moment was when they visited Save a Child’s Heart, a non-profit medical organization based in Holon, Israel, which flies children from underdeveloped countries in dire need of heart surgery, brings them to Israel with their parents, operates on them, helps them recover, and flies them home free of charge.
But he couldn’t help but wonder where his in-flight patient was and how he was doing, let alone what had caused his medical emergency. And after Birthright staff found out where he was, they had to act to create a special moment.
25. A Grateful Reunion
While Dr. Mike was in a hospital in the Israeli capital of Jerusalem, doing a lecture with a university researcher, he was reunited with Matt, his grateful patient! It turned out they shared a happy coincidence: Dr. Mike himself had also gone on that very same Birthright program trip ten years before.
The two were glad to see each other, and Matt posed for photographers alongside the famous doctor who had saved his life. When Dr. Mike came back to America, he had an important message as he went around the talk show circuit: make sure there are EpiPens on board your flights!
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