Amazing Things

Woman going to DIE on Plane is saved not by one doctor but TWO!


William Angus Wallace


Those unfamiliar with William Angus Wallace might think we’re referencing a beefy, Scottish freedom fighter. But the William Wallace we have in mind earned public acclaim in the mid-1990s by using his quick thinking and engineering aptitude to help save a critically wounded woman during a flight from Hong Kong to London.

British Airways passenger Paula Dixon had taken a nasty spill in transit to the airport. The fall broke some of Dixon’s ribs, which in turn collapsed her left lung. Air from her damaged lung began forming a deadly pocket in Paula’s chest, something known as a pneumothorax. But the gravity of her situation went unrecognized until she was already in the air.

Thankfully, Dixon had missed her scheduled departure, forcing her to hop on a flight with not one but two doctors. One of them was Scotland-based practitioner Tom Wong. The other was Dr. Wallace, an orthopedic surgeon based in Nottingham. The doctor duo rushed to Paula’s aid after her left forearm unexpectedly ballooned. They initially surmised that she had simply broken her arm and applied a splint.

Within an hour, however, Paula’s health took a turn for the frightful. She doubled over with extreme chest pain, and Dr. Wallace once more attempted to treat her. Only this time, he noticed that her windpipe was out of place. Soon, the true nature of her health was clear.

Dixon’s air-filled chest needed to be drained, but Dr. Wallace lacked the proper apparatus to do it. He did, however, have a brilliant brain and a few useful items. Armed with an Evian water bottle, oxygen mask tubing, a coat hanger, and Sellotape, William produced a makeshift trocar and draining tube. After disinfecting Dixon’s chest with brandy and anesthetizing her with heart medication, he grabbed a scalpel and went to work.

William’s imaginative gamble paid off, and Paula was right as rain within 15 minutes. Dr. Wallace would later influence air safety as the innovator of the “brace position,” the impact-reducing posture all airline passengers are instructed to adopt in case of an impending crash.


About Barry G. Morris

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