As It Happens

'Oh right. I'm on a plane': Toronto doctor delivers baby on flight

After a fellow passenger went into labour on board a flight last month, Toronto's Dr. Aisha Khatib sprang into action.

Dr. Aisha Khatib sprang into action after Qatar Airways crew called out for help

Dr. Aisha Khatib and the baby she helped deliver last month while on board an airplane en route to Uganda. (@AishaKhatib/Twitter)

Story Transcript

Dr. Aisha Khatib usually tries to relax while flying.

But last month, when the University of Toronto professor was on her way from Qatar to Uganda on a Qatar Airways flight, life had other plans.

When the plane's crew called out for a doctor, Khatib sprang to her feet — and found herself in a starring role in a mid-air medical drama. 

"As I got closer … what I saw was a woman lying on the seat and her head was toward the aisle and her feet were toward the window and there was a baby coming out," she told As It Happens host Carol Off.

A crowd of passengers surrounded the mother, whose baby girl was already halfway out.

Mother was 'calm and focused'

Khatib remembers someone giving her gloves before she zeroed in on the birth-in-progress. 

"As that was happening, somebody on my left said, 'I'm a nurse, can I help you?' And I said, 'Yes, I need the medical kit. You know, there should be a delivery kit in [here]. If not, I need clamps. I need scissors. If we don't have clamps, I need shoelaces,'" she said.

"I'm [also] thinking, 'I need hot water.' And then like, 'Wait, no. I don't need hot water, but they always ask for that in the movies."

It was an unexpected surprise for both Khatib, who had never delivered a baby in a plane before, and the mother, who was travelling alone. A migrant worker, she was flying home from working in Saudi Arabia.

"She was calm. She was focused," Khatib recalled. "I mean, I think she was in shock, you know, to tell you the truth."

WATCH | Toronto doctor describes helping a passenger give birth on a plane:

Delivering a baby at 35,000 feet

11 days ago
Duration 9:13
Desc: Physician Dr. Aisha Khatib spoke with CBC News about being unexpectedly called to help a woman in labour while on a Qatari Airlines flight. 9:13

According to the doctor, the mother called an airline attendant over when she felt severe abdominal pain. The attendant asked if she was pregnant — and only then did the passenger realize she was in labour.

Qatar Airways told CityNews that crews are trained to deal with on-board emergencies, including delivering babies. It also said the airline usually has a cutoff for when pregnant women can fly, and the woman on Dr. Khatib's flight was on the border of that cutoff. 

"She hadn't had any prenatal care," Khatib said. "Even when I got to this situation … I had no history of anything about her. And so that's always a little bit of a scary situation, right?"

Government of Canada travel guidance says women with healthy pregnancies can fly up to 36 weeks gestation, but that most airlines restrict travel in late pregnancy or may require a written confirmation from a physician.

Once the baby was out on the seat, another passenger popped up beside Khatib and identified herself as a pediatrician with Médecins Sans Frontières. 

The pediatrician assessed the newborn as Khatib turned her attention to delivering the placenta and making sure the mother was healthy.

"I'm kind of piling blankets underneath her … cautious that I don't want her to bleed … so I had to go very slow with the placenta," Khatib said.

"Then I'm thinking, 'OK, well, I need a plastic bag. Give me a plastic bag.' So these people [other passengers] were just handing me things as I was calling for them, which is great."

A new namesake

With the mother in stable condition, the pediatrician handed the newborn back to Khatib.

"I said, 'OK, well, congratulations! It's a girl!' And at that point, the entire plane erupted in clapping and cheering, and I was like, 'Oh right. I'm on a plane,'" Khatib said.

The mom and baby were cleaned up and moved up into the business class seats to give them more space. The baby then latched onto her mom and started breastfeeding right away.

"Luckily, they were OK," Khatib said.

Khatib snapped this picture of the plane where the birth took place. (@AishaKhatib/Twitter)

"The best part is the mom named the baby after me … she named her Miracle Aisha."

Khatib traded numbers with the mother and they have kept in touch since then. Before they parted ways, though, the doctor also gave the newborn a gift.

"I had a necklace on that had my name in Arabic on it, so I gave it to her as my namesake. So that she always remembers that she was delivered by a lady named Aisha, up in the air, [when] we were flying above the Nile," she said.

"It's pretty spectacular."


Written by Mehek Mazhar. Interview with Aisha Khatib produced by Katie Geleff.

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