EMT has symptoms after CPR on flight before man died of COVID

An emergency medical technician said he has COVID-19 symptoms after performing CPR on a man infected with the coronavirus who later died after going into cardiac arrest during a United Airlines flight.

Tony Aldapa, a Navy veteran, said his training kicked in when he saw the passenger needed medical help during the Dec. 14 flight from Orlando, Florida, to Los Angeles. He knew the potential health risks of performing CPR on someone he didn’t know but didn’t flinch and started chest compressions on the man, whose wife told Aldapa he had virus symptoms, KNBC-TV reported.

Tony Aldapa

An autopsy found the man died of acute respiratory failure and confirmed he was infected with COVID-19, USA Today reported.

Aldapa said he had planned to get the COVID-19 vaccine on Friday because he is a licensed EMT and an emergency room worker. Instead, he is awaiting results from a coronavirus test.

"Ten times out of ten, I would still get up and help," said Aldapa, who has had a headache, cough and body aches since soon after flight. "I was just thinking there’s a guy that needs CPR."

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Aldapa, along with another EMT and ICU nurse, took turns doing CPR on the man, who has not been identified. The group did not do mouth-to-mouth but had rotated a resuscitator and oxygen mask to help the man breathe while doing chest compressions for 45 minutes.

The man’s wife was overheard saying he felt sick before the flight and had lost his sense of taste and smell.

"She told me he had been short of breath and on the way back home he was going to get tested for COVID," said Aldapa, who works at a Veterans Administration medical center in West Los Angeles.

The man died at a hospital after an emergency landing. The flight continued to Los Angeles.

United Airlines said all passengers are required to fill out a ready-to-fly questionnaire to acknowledge they don’t have COVID-19 or related symptoms. Several passengers said the man Aldapa helped showed symptoms, but it remained unclear if he had the coronavirus.

The airline reached out to Aldapa to thank him and said it sent the flight manifest to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Aldapa said the CDC had not contacted him.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.