Bhutan’s first air-born baby
It was on Monday morning, when eight-month pregnant Sangay Rigzin, 34, started feeling severe labor pain at her home in Pangbang. Clueless, her husband Kuenlay Dorjee, a freelance ecotourism guide by profession, rushed to the Panbang Basic Health Unit (BHU) to seek emergency medical service.
While aware that Pangbang just had a BHU and that complicated cases were mostly referred to Gelephu, Kuenlay Dorjee, however, seeing the pain that his wife was going through, had no other option than to take her to the BHU.
And just a minute drive from the town at around 11 am, complication heightened for Sangay Rigzin. While the staff at the BHU confirmed Sangay Rigzin’s delivery by 5 pm, things were getting worse with each passing minute.
The BHU staff then advised him to refer his wife to Gelephu Regional Referral Hospital. However, without any confirmation of a safe delivery, Kuenlay Dorjee hesitated to take his wife as it involved a day’s journey on bumpy roads.
Later, he was advised to airlift his wife to the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH). Kuenlay Dorjee agreed.
“Still I felt that would be the best alternative, which of course was risky. I was nervous,” says Kuenlay Dorjee. After the chopper was confirmed from the Royal Bhutan Helicopter Services Limited, Kuenlay Dorjee readied himself and his wife with his cousin. It was already late evening by then.
And after some time a chopper landed at Galabi, a helipad above the town. Kuenlay Dorjee along with his cousins packed their luggage and rushed to the spot, following the ambulance which was ferrying his wife in labor pain.
He did not opt for road transport because of the history of similar complications having undergone by his wife. The two children the couple had were born when Sangay Rigzin was seven-month pregnant.
After the chopper landed, two-member team from the Bhutan Emergency Aeromedical Retrival (BEAR) and BHU staff rushed the patient into the chopper and was airlifted immediately. A very complete and perfect team, according to Kuenlay Dorjee, had provided every help during the journey.
The situation worsened again after 20 minutes on flight. Sangay Rigzin’s labor pain intensified and the membrane started to break, signaling the baby was on its way out.
“I thought we would not make it. The entire scene was like a movie,” Kuenlay Dorjee says. “But I was happy that the medical team was doing their job and I went on to console my crying wife.”
After crossing Trongsa, the baby boy was born at 4:34 pm. The preterm baby, weighing 2.48 kilograms, was the first case in Bhutan to be delivered in a midflight during a medical evacuation.
The story of the airborn baby was informed by former Prime Minister Dasho Tshering Tobgay, who also shared some pictures on his Facebook page on Wednesday and stated, “Bhutan welcomes first air-born baby”.
Meanwhile, a nurse at JDWNRH, Cheki Wangchuk, says the team has done a tremendous job despite such a case being the first one. “We were equipped with necessary requirements. And we did it successfully. It’s a proud moment for the whole team,” he adds.
“I was just praying for a safe delivery,” says Kuenlay Dorjee, with a sigh of relief.
The birthing procedures were then completed after removing the placenta and umbilical chord. The child was then placed on the mother’s lap. The baby, according to the staff, was healthy despite being preterm.
“I was blessed with a baby boy born on air. I could hear the first cry of my baby on board. That was a biggest relief,” he said.
After another 45 minutes, the chopper landed at the Lungtenphu helipad and there were staff waiting from the JDWNRH. The mother was then rushed to the hospital to complete the delivery procedures. Sangay Rigzin was admitted in the maternity ward, while the baby was kept at the Mother and Post Natal Unit for a day.
“Everything was perfect at the hospital. The staff helped the patient. I am thankful to the pilot for a safe flight and the staff who have rendered their helping hands,” says Kuenlay Dorjee.
Kuenlay Dorjee also admits having received a congratulatory call from former Lyonchhen Dasho Tshering Tobgay. The baby boy has been presently named, Namdru Dorji, which was given by the baby’s grandfather.
“I have not thought of other names. But will consult Buddhist priest,” Kuenlay Dorjee said.
Kuenlay Dorjee is relieved that everything went well. He is waiting for his wife and baby boy to get discharged so that he can take them home.