UW News

August 27, 2012

Alaska cruise passenger airlifted to Harborview for blood clot treatment


UW Health Sciences/UW Medicine

Sarah Davis took an unexpected side trip during an Alaskan cruise last week. While the Beaufort, S.C., resident was admiring the rugged scenery with her family, she developed debilitating pain in her leg. In the middle of the night,the ship’s physician diagnosed a dangerous blood clot.

At 2:30 a.m. Aug. 21 in Seattle, UW Medicine vascular surgeon Dr. Benjamin Starnes consulted by phone with the cruise physician.  Starnes advised on the impending need for a type of treatment not available on the ship.

Sarah Davis at Harborview with husband after airlift from Alaska cruise

Sarah Davis awaits surgery at Harborview Medical Center with her husband by her side.Susan Gregg

The ship’s physician advised the captain, who  asked for a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter to be dispatched to the cruise ship for a medical evacuation. The ship’s passengers were informed of the rescue operation.

Sarah Davis’ husband of 64 years was sad and worried as his wife was strapped into a litter tethered to the rescue helicopter hovering overhead. Sarah  Davis recalled the tethered basket  “twirling a bit in the air a bit” as she was raised toward the helicopter.

After she was securely on board, the helicopter turned away from the ship, grew smaller and disappeared into the sky on its way toward Juneau. Davis was stabilized at a Juneau hospital, then transferred via a medical flight to Harborview Medical Center.

Dr. Starnes performs vascular surgery with patient Sarah Davis Agu.23

UW Medicine vascular surgeon Dr. Ben Starnes and his team perform blood clot surgery for Sarah Davis Aug. 23 at Harborview Medical Center, following her airlift from an Alaskan cruise ship.Susan Gregg

UW Medicine vascular surgeon Dr. Benjamin Starnes and his team were at Harborview ready to provide urgent treatment for her leg. Davis was later admitted to the Intensive Care Unit. One of the surgical residents at Harborview was originally from her intercoastal town near Savannah, Ga., and Hilton Head, S.C. The resident’s visits helped her feel not so far from home.

Starnes scheduled surgery to remove a.blood clot Thursday, August 23.  In the meantime, her family had left Alaska and flown to Seattle.  Her husband held her hand as they waited for her to be wheeled away to surgery. “I love this gal,” he said.

Sarah Davis expressed in her warm Southern accent her gratitude to the ship’s physician, the cruise personnel, Coast Guard crew, her Juneau hospital care staff, the  medical airlift team to Seattle, and Harborview Medical Center. Her husband was thankful for the prompt treatment his wife received due to the urgent nature of her condition.

Mrs. Davis is now recovering at Harborview and will be heading home in the next few days.

See the KING 5 TV news segment.