In July 2019, Dr. Annie Wong traveled as a physician team member on a humanitarian medical mission with her local community hospital to offer medical care to native inhabitants of the Galapagos Islands. On the final day of their service, Dr. Wong, with no forewarning or apparent symptoms, lapsed into a coma. Her husband, Dr. Ron Wong, shares their story.
My wife, Annie, who is also a physician, had traveled to the Galapagos Islands on a humanitarian medical mission with our local community hospital and was going to be away for several weeks. I was not on call for the weekend, so I decided to visit our son and his family, who live in San Diego, 250 miles away from our home in central California. Even driving around central Los Angeles to San Diego means stop-and-go traffic, so I was exhausted when I arrived and looked forward to a restful night’s sleep. However, at 12:00 AM my cellphone began ringing. I thought I was dreaming when I heard my cell phone ringing. Ring, ring , ring! Wait ! I am not on call! Who is calling me? In a daze I looked at the screen and it was Annie’s number! Unexpectedly, man’s voice was on the other end.
“This is Dr. Michael Lloyd calling from Galapagos Island and I am here with your wife Annie….”
“Is she okay?”
“No” he replied. “She has had a seizure, but her vitals are stable.”
“What?” I exclaimed. I bolted upright from a supine position in bed and sat up in disbelief. Shock. Seizure? A thousand differentials were going through my head. Did she have a brain infarction? A brain tumor? Any number of possibilities were spinning through my mind.
Dr. Lloyd continued. “We think her serum sodium went too low.”
I immediately asked, “Is she lucid?”
“No,” he replied, “she is in coma, but her vitals are stable. We are giving her some sodium intravenously and will know more in a couple of hours. We will call you back then with an update of her condition.”
I immediately went upstairs and woke up my son and his wife. Jared is a colo-rectal surgeon and his wife, Sara, is a family practice physician. They both understood the gravity of the situation and we all knelt down to pray for Divine help.
After our prayer Jared said, “I am going down to help Mom!”
“Let’s wait for Dr. Lloyd’s call with the update and see how she is doing,” I replied.
It seemed like eternity before the call came. “Is she any better?” I asked anxiously.
“Her sodium is coming up, her vitals are stable—but she has not woken up,” he replied. “We will keep you posted.”
The thought of Annie never waking up again gave me an empty, hollow, gut-wrenching feeling that only those whose loved ones have drifted off in a coma can understand. Forty-six years of marriage. . .gone, just like that! A thousand thoughts flashed through my mind.
Then Jared reiterated, “I am leaving on the next available flight to help Mom.” He packed an overnight bag and left.
I found my wallet and suddenly remembered I had not taken out my MedJet card after our last trip. I looked up the emergency number and called. Someone picked up immediately. I gave him Annie’s cellphone so they could contact Dr. Lloyd to establish her condition. Soon after, MedJet called me to inform me that Annie needed emergency transportation off the island to Quito, the capitol of Ecuador, to the nearest tertiary hospital. Medjet assured me they would arrange everything from this point on and that an air ambulance was already en route to Galapagos. What a relief! The next step was initiated!
At 6:30 AM I called Annie’s cellphone. Dr. Lloyd, who has remained at Annie’s bedside, answered the phone.
“Annie has stabilized and has awakened—but she is in a great deal of pain.”
“Praise God!” I replied . He handed the phone to Annie. In a dazed and weakened voice she told me she could not remember what happened but that the pain was terrible.
“Okay, you just rest. Help is on the way,” I assured her, trying to stay calm.
MedJet’s air ambulance arrived later that same morning with a flight crew and two-man medical team. They transported Annie to Quito, to a private hospital, and Jared arrived that same afternoon from L.A. It took two days to stabilize her before she was able to be fly and, with Jared accompanying her, she was flown to USC Keck Medical Center, where she would spend the next seven days.
In Quito, when Annie’s condition had improved enough for air transport to L.A., the EMT team were on board to attend to Annie the entire way and Jared was allowed to accompany her. All her medical transportation costs from the small island hospital to Quito, then Quito to Los Angeles, were covered by our MedJet membership. MedJet did all the necessary paperwork to clear international and domestic airspace from South America to Los Angeles without a hitch. An attending physician on the USA side has to agree to accept a patient into any advanced tertiary care hospital and MedJet took care of that. Attempting to do all the many, necessary, details would otherwise have cost an astronomical amount of money, not to mention the loss of valuable time to get a patient stabilized. As it was, Annie suffered two spinal fractures and her right scapula was fractured in three pieces as a result of her seizure. She is recovering nicely, thank God.
And thanks to MedJet, for being there in our time of need. I am so grateful for their flawless, professional handling of Annie’s medical emergency, down to the smallest detail.
If we had not been MedJet members, I cannot even begin to imagine what a daunting task it would have been to get Annie the emergency medical care she needed as quickly and efficiently. In time, she made a full recovery. That might not have been the case if it hadn’t been for MedJet.
Something like this could happen to anyone who is traveling far away from home, especially to a foreign and remote country. There are so many obstacles in the way of getting a patient home to the care he needs. If an individual needs medical transport, no commercial airplane is equipped to handle an emergency patient and no trained medical personal is on board. What I want to say is, the peace of mind and assurance of being a MedJet member is a must for anyone who travels away from home.
By Ronald Wong, M.D., as told to Laurie Bogart Wiles