While a midflight delivery would be alarming in any circumstance, it was especially so in this case: The mother was unaware that she was 29 weeks pregnant when she boarded the plane.
“I had no idea,” Lavinia “Lavi” Mounga, 38, said in a recorded video interview. The Orem, Utah, resident was headed to Honolulu for a family vacation and started experiencing severe stomach cramps during the flight. It turned out she was actually in labor.
“This is a three-pound baby, not a six-to-12-pound baby,” Glenn said, explaining that preterm labor is usually faster given the baby’s small size.
While in the bathroom, “she had the presence of mind to catch the baby and call for help,” said Glenn, 52. Soon after, though, “she passed out.”
The scene was chaotic, as flight attendants searched for health-care workers while trying to keep concerned passengers calm amid the commotion.
Fortunately for Mounga and her unexpected, premature son — whom she later named Raymond — a team of medical professionals happened to be on the flight, including Glenn, who is a family medicine physician at Hawaii Pacific Health, and three neonatal intensive care unit nurses from Missouri.
The nurses, who were all taking a vacation together, were immersed in their respective TV shows when suddenly, “we heard someone call out for medical help,” said Lani Bamfield, 26, a nurse at North Kansas City Hospital. “I went to see what was going on and see her there holding a baby in her hands, and it’s little.”
Her colleagues, Amanda Beeding, 45, and Mimi Ho, 27, sprinted from their seats to help. Although the three NICU nurses treat premature babies daily, they had never done it on an airplane, they said in a recorded video interview.
Bamfield and Ho focused on the baby, while Beeding helped Mounga deliver the placenta in the bathroom. Glenn was switching between the two patients, though he was most concerned about Raymond.
“He was not breathing very well,” Glenn said. Plus, “the baby was not crying. Normally, you want to hear more noise. This was about as quiet of a delivery as you can get.”
Given the baby’s concerning condition and the fact that they were 40,000 feet in the air and still three hours from landing, the health-care workers — with the help of airline staff and passengers — mobilized to form a makeshift NICU.
Medical supplies were scant, so they got creative, using an Apple Watch as a heart-rate monitor and shoelaces to cut through the umbilical cord. They also made a mini oxygen mask with first aid tape, and a baby-size beanie out of one passenger’s worn Reebok sock.
Their primary objective was to keep the premature baby warm, since “he had no fat on his body” and could “get cold very easily,” Glenn said. “We basically made our own little incubator with hot water bottles and blankets.”
Because they couldn’t measure the child’s blood pressure or oxygen levels, “we had to really watch how the baby was pinking up,” Glenn explained. “That first hour was really tricky, but fortunately this is a tough little kid and steadily his color improved, his breathing quieted down, and he was warming up.”
Mom was recovering, too.
“Our biggest fear was having her and the baby crashing at the same time. When you have a rescue like this, you have two patients, not one,” Glenn said. Fortunately, she remained stable, especially “considering how shocking this was.”
“It has been very overwhelming,” Mounga said. After all, not only did she deliver a premature baby in the middle of a flight, but she also didn’t know she was pregnant in the first place.
“This guy just came out of nowhere,” she said, holding her newborn son two days after the flight.
Glenn called her condition a “cryptic pregnancy,” which occurs when a woman is pregnant but doesn’t know it until late in the pregnancy or when labor actually begins. It’s often due to a hormonal imbalance.
“It’s more common than people realize,” Glenn said, estimating that it occurs in about 1 in 400 pregnancies and happens more frequently in women with irregular menstrual cycles and first-time mothers, like Mounga, who don’t recognize the signs.
What is far rarer than a cryptic pregnancy, Glenn said, is giving birth on an airplane.
“I was really grateful to have a full NICU team,” he said. “She and this baby were so blessed. Births on airplanes are extremely rare, so what are the odds that you’re going to have a full team? Happy Mother’s Day right there.”
Mounga knows how fortunate she and Raymond are to have had a medical crew on the plane that day.
“I’m just so lucky,” she said. “If they weren’t there, I don’t think he would be here.”
To show her gratitude, she asked Glenn’s family to choose a middle name for her son, and his daughter thought of the Hawaiian name Kaimana, which means “power of the sea.” It’s fitting, Glenn said, considering “he was born flying 500 miles over the Pacific.”
Short scenes from the in-flight escapade were compiled in a viral TikTok video, which captured Raymond’s first cries as the plane finally landed in Honolulu. Travelers erupted in cheers as a medical response team wheeled Mounga and her son off the aircraft.
“This was a shared experience that everyone was going through,” Glenn said, adding that many of the passengers played a critical role in keeping Raymond stable.
“Passengers shared diapers, a blood glucometer, a thermometer, blankets and anything else we asked for. There were a lot of heroes on that flight,” he said. “Everybody started working together and it was this incredible feeling of teamwork.”
Mounga and Raymond were taken to Kapi‘olani Medical Center for Women and Children, where Raymond is expected to stay for several more weeks. Both he and his mother are doing well, and Glenn has been in regular communication with the family.
He and the three nurses went to visit Mounga and Raymond at the hospital last Friday.
“We all just teared up. She called us family and said we’re all his aunties,” said Ho.
“We’re very emotionally invested in this little man,” echoed Beeding.
“It was just so wonderful to see mom and baby together,” said Glenn. “You look at all the things that happened, and it was pretty miraculous. It’s definitely one of the highlights of my career.”
But going forward, he quipped, “when I travel, I’m going to bring a larger first aid kit and a spare neonatologist.”
Have a story for Inspired Life? Here’s how to submit.