In early December, Dr. Aisha Khatib, an assistant professor at U of T’s Department of Family and Community Medicine, helped deliver a baby 35,000 feet in the air onboard a Qatar Airways plane enroute to Uganda. 

Khatib, who is also a physician at St. Michael’s Hospital and a travel medicine doctor, specializes in travel and tropical medicine, with her most recent research focusing on safety around air travel during the pandemic. The Varsity spoke with Khatib about the airborne delivery, being prepared to provide emergency care, and the fundraiser she has started to help the newborn’s family. 

The delivery

While on a flight from Qatar to Uganda for work, Khatib responded to the call of a crew member asking if there was a doctor on board. Although originally unsure of the situation, Khatib was eventually told that a pregnant woman on the plane was in labour.

In an email to The Varsity, Khatib reflected on how she felt at that moment. “My adrenaline was certainly pumping and I was nervous about all the situations where something could go seriously wrong,” she wrote. 

Khatib was afraid that she wouldn’t have all the necessary equipment to assist with the birth; however, airline staff and passengers promptly handed her the tools she needed to carry out the delivery. 

Another major concern she had was that the mother might experience postpartum hemorrhage, which can even be critical in situations where doctors have full access to all resources. Thankfully, the baby was successfully delivered, but Khatib continued to monitor both the mother and the baby for the remainder of the flight. 

Further reflections

Khatib wrote that the mother’s experience should prompt travellers to consider the risks of travelling with preexisting conditions, such as pregnancy. 

She also expressed hope that her story would bring more attention to the need to make sure doctors are prepared for in-flight emergencies. She noted that although she is trained in family and emergency medicine, she hadn’t delivered a baby in over a decade prior to the birth on the plane. 

“I am very grateful to have been involved in such an important life event for the mother and the baby,” she wrote. “This is certainly my most memorable deliveries [sic]… What made it so surreal was the airplane audience, [the] joyful atmosphere after [the] baby arrived, and the heartfelt gesture when mom gave baby my namesake.” 

Khatib has started a GoFundMe campaign to support both the mother and the newborn child. The fundraiser has a goal of $100,000, and it has raised $1,890 as of January 30. 

In the motivation section for the fundraiser, Khatib elaborated that the mother was unable to afford prenatal care for the baby. “Let’s give her a chance of a better and beautiful life, filled with hopes and dreams, so that she can surpass the clouds and someday reach the stars,” Khatib wrote.