When Lavinia “Lavi” Mounga boarded her flight from Salt Lake City to Honolulu on April 28, she had no idea she would be landing as a mom.
"I didn't know I was pregnant and this guy just came out of nowhere," Mounga said in a video provided by Hawaii Pacific Health, as she stared lovingly at her newborn son, Raymond Mounga, cradled on her chest. “It has been very overwhelming, and I’m just so lucky that there were three NICU nurses and a doctor on the plane to help me, and help stabilize him and make sure he was OK for the duration of the flight."
For Dr. Dale Glenn, a Hawaii Pacific Health family medicine physician on the flight, the emergency call mid-flight did not seem routine.
“I've experienced this before and usually they're pretty clear asking if there is a doctor on board,” he said in the hospital's video. “This call was not like this and it was fairly urgent. I let the flight attendant know that I’m a physician and she said we have a woman having a baby, so I hurried over to see what I could do.”
Glenn joined North Kansas City Hospital NICU nurses Lani Bamfield, Amanda Beeding and Mimi Ho, who were also on the flight, to help take care of mom and her baby, who was born at just 29 weeks gestation.
“We were about halfway through the flight and we heard someone call out for medical help,” Bamfield said. “I went to see what was going on and see her there holding a baby in her hands, and it’s little.”
Added Ho, “That definitely means something to us because we work in the NICU."
Glenn acknowledged the pure luck of the situation.
"The idea that this baby had a doctor and three NICU nurses is nothing short of miraculous. It blows me away as a doctor," Glenn told TODAY Parents. "I don't think people realize how rare this is; there have only been about sixty babies born on airplanes in history. This is literally one in a billion chance kind of thing."
Having a physician and three neonatal intensive care nurses onboard the same flight when Mounga went into emergency labor proved to be critical.
“Basically, you need somebody to watch the mom, too, because we have two patients, not just one," he said. "So someone’s got to help cut the cord, someone’s got to help deliver the placenta, we’ve got to check vital signs on mom. Meanwhile we’re trying to resuscitate baby, make sure baby’s breathing, get baby warmed up. That’s a lot of work to do, and we’re all trying to work in a very small, confined space in an airplane, which is pretty challenging. But the teamwork was great.”
The team of medical professionals improvised at 35,000 feet, using shoelaces to tie and cut through the umbilical cord, creating baby warmers out of bottles that were microwaved, and using an Apple Watch to measure baby Raymond's heart rate.
“I was literally counting down the time on my watch, between where we are in the flight to when we can get this child to Kapi'olani," Glenn shared.
Upon landing in Honolulu, medical response teams were waiting to help get mom and baby to Kapi‘olani Medical Center for Women & Children.
Despite the heroic efforts of all the medical professionals, Glenn said it was a team effort by everyone on board.
"People had given us diapers, moved seats, (and) did whatever they had to do to help out," Glenn told TODAY, adding that at one point he stood up to take his sweater back to his seat and realized all eyes were on him. "I had to kind of stop and say something them, 'Everything is alright, we're going to make it' and I could see the weight drop off people’s shoulders. They wanted to know but were afraid to ask. The support we got from every person on that plane...there was so much aloha."
Over the weekend, Glenn and the nurses shared an emotional reunion with the new mom.
“We all just teared up," Ho shared. "She called us family and said we’re all his aunties, and it was so great to see them."
While Mounga has been discharged, baby Raymond remains in the NICU in Hawaii.
"The experience here has been so good,” Mounga, a resident of Orem, Utah, who was traveling to Hawaii with family on vacation, said. “Everybody’s so nice and the aloha spirit you feel here is very different from the mainland. It just feels comforting and everyone's willing to help and always checking in on us.