Originally created 07/15/06

Nurse aids ill minister high in sky



Retired Lutheran minister Albert Schudde turned 78 on Independence Day, but that might not have happened if it hadn't been for a chance meeting he had in May with an Augusta nurse, Becki Hodges, in the air between Minneapolis and Billings, Mont.

"I want to give God the glory. He worked miracles," the Rev. Schudde said in by telephone from his home in Mount Vernon, Wash., about 60 miles north of Seattle.

While the Rev. Schudde and his wife, Janet, were winding up a visit with their children and grandchildren in Milwaukee on Mother's Day, Mrs. Hodges and her husband, Jack, were in Augusta, two days away from leaving for their dream trip to Alaska and almost too sick to care.

"We discussed were we even going to make this trip," said Mrs. Hodges, who spent her Sunday sick in bed.

They came close to canceling before deciding to give it one more day.

A night's rest for her and a trip to the doctor for him on Monday restored their confidence, and on Tuesday they took off from Atlanta as planned. Their destination - Fairbanks, Alaska.

"That is why I feel it (the trip) was sort of led by the hand of God," said Mrs. Hodges, a critical care clinical nurse specialist at St. Joseph Hospital.

New passengers, including the Schuddes, joined the Hodgeses during a stop in Minneapolis. The packed plane lifted off for Seattle.

After about an hour, an attendant asked over the intercom whether a doctor was onboard.

Mrs. Hodges stopped reading her magazine when she heard the attendant a second time asking for anyone with a medical background to come forward.

"Lord, please don't let it be a lady delivering a baby," Mrs. Hodges remembered thinking.

After she answered the call, an attendant led her to the Rev. Schudde, who was sitting on the cabin floor with his knees drawn up. The attendants already had him on oxygen.

At 5 feet 10 inches and 150 pounds, he was fit for a man his age. He was a nonsmoker and exercised regularly. He had never had chest pains and he had felt fine earlier in the day when he and his wife told their relatives goodbye and started back home, he later said.

His doctor had told him he was one of the last people he would expect to have a heart problem, the Rev. Schudde said.

On the plane, Mrs. Hodges ran down the list of standard emergency room questions with him: How bad was his pain, from one to 10? Did he take any medications? what were his health issues? Was he allergic to anything?

She asked the attendant what they had onboard to help him and learned the plane was equipped with a blood pressure pump, a stethoscope and a heart monitor.

The plane's medical kit had no aspirin, but Mrs. Hodges was able to get one from another passenger. The kit did have nitroglycerin, a drug that dilates the arteries going to the heart, easing its burden. It also can make blood pressure drop.

She asked to give it to the Rev. Schudde but was told the airline's clinic doctor had to clear it first.

"Call him," she said.

The request went to the cockpit, but instead of giving an answer, a pilot came back to say, "We are approaching Billings, Mont. Do we need to put the plane down? This is the last place we can land before Seattle."

She said it seemed only seconds passed between her reply, "Yes, he needs to be evaluated," and the announcement sounding over the intercom that they were landing for a medical emergency.

When the Rev. Schudde heard it, he got upset, concerned about delaying fellow passengers.

Mrs. Hodges had no doubts.

"I knew absolutely we were doing the right thing. We were doing the thing we needed to do," she said.

The Rev. Schudde thought he was well enough to go back to his seat. Mrs. Hodges persuaded him to stay where he was to make sure.

"He did, and his pains came back," she said.

The attendants cleared some seats for her, the minister and his wife. The plane descended and Mrs. Schudde told her husband that she could see the ambulance lights blinking on the runway.

With the airline doctor's permission, Mrs. Hodges gave her patient nitroglycerin and then a second dose just before the EMTs boarded. His blood pressure dropped, but she knew the EMTs would take it from there and administer intravenous fluids, she said. They did, and wheeled the minister off the plane.

The plane refueled and arrived in Seattle about an hour late, enough of a delay that passengers missed connections. When the Hodgeses and the other members of their tour got to Fairbanks a day or two later, Mrs. Hodges was sick again. While laid up in her hotel room, she tried to find out how the minister was but could not until she got back to Augusta. They have since caught up in letters and by telephone.

In the emergency room, the cardiologist told him that he never would have made it to Seattle without the side trip to the Billings hospital, said the Rev. Schudde, who has two cardiac stents.

The Rev. Schudde said some people told him he was lucky.

"I did a sermon on luck once," he said. "Those times you say you are lucky, those were little miracles from God."

Reach Virginia Norton at (706) 823-3336 or virginia.norton@augustachronicle.com.