UM grad delivers baby on international flight

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

A University of Michigan grad and doctor helped deliver a baby during a flight from Paris to New York earlier this month.

UM grad Sij Hemal and pediatrician Susan Shepherd delivered Toyin Ogundipe's healthy baby boy during a flight from Paris to N.Y.

Sij Hemal, 27, was returning to Cleveland from New Delhi, India, to the U.S. on Dec. 17, 2017, when fellow passenger Toyin Ogundipe, 41, went into labor midway through the flight, according to officials with the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland.

Their plane was 35,000 feet over the southern coast of Greenland and about four hours away from New York.

Hemal, who is a second-year resident at the clinic's Glickman Urological & Kidney Institute, volunteered to help her.

“I was pretty tired from jet lag,” Hemal, who a day earlier attended a friend’s wedding, said in a statement. “I thought I’d just have a drink and fall asleep. As it turned out, I’m glad I didn’t drink anything.”

Hemal is a 2012 UM graduate.

Since an emergency landing meant a 2-hour diversion to a U.S. military base in the Azores Islands, Hemal recommended to the pilot that the flight continue on its course, officials said in a statement released earlier this month.

A pediatrician who was on the flight, Susan Shepherd, and Hemal monitored the woman's vital signs. Shepherd, who works for the Alliance for International Medical Action, was returning home from a professional meeting in Dakar, according to the clinic.

To make the expectant mother more comfortable, they moved her to first class. Meanwhile, flight attendants took care of Ogundipe's 4-year-old daughter, Amy, who was traveling with her.

Within about an hour, Ogundipe's contractions accelerated. "That’s when we knew we were going to deliver on the plane,” Hemal said.

Although Hemal's practice area is urology, he said he delivered seven babies during medical school – although never on the floor of a jetliner. Hemal graduated from U-M in 2012 with a degree in biomedical engineering. He also graduated from Wake Forest University's medical school in 2016. 

“We’re trained to stay calm and think clearly in emergency situations,” he said. “I just tried to think ahead to what might go wrong and come up with a creative solution."

Ogundipe said she was never worried because Hemal and Shepherd were with her.

"I was relaxed because I knew I was in safe hands," she said. "They did everything a doctor or midwife would have done if I was in the labor room in the hospital. Even better, if you ask me.”

Thirty minutes later, Ogundipe gave birth to a boy whom she named Jake.

Toyin Ogundipe gave birth to her son, Jake, on a flight from Paris to N.Y. with help from UM alum Sij Hemal.

Officials said after their flight arrived in New York, Ogundipe, Jake and Amy were put into an ambulance and taken to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center, about four miles away. Ogundipe was released later that day, according to Cleveland Clinic officials.

Hemal said after he made it home to Cleveland, he received a travel voucher and a bottle of champagne from Air France.

He also said has also stayed in contact with Ogundipe and Dr. Shepherd.