WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – The 64-year-old pilot of a small plane who became incapacitated, leaving his passenger with no flying experience to land the Cessna in Florida earlier this month, suffered a tear in his aorta, his surgeon said.
Dr. Nishant Patel, a cardiothoracic surgeon at Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center, said in a news conference Thursday that Kenneth Allen's recovery from the aortic dissection was remarkable.
“Every step of the way, it was really extraordinary that he was able to get through it,” Patel said. “The first thing he said to me the morning after surgery was, ‘When can I go home?’”
Allen was flying two passengers to Florida from the Bahamas on May 10 when he lost consciousness.
Darren Harrison told NBC’s “Today” show earlier this week the “hand of God" was with him when he landed the plane after Allen passed out.
Harrison said he was relaxing with his feet up in the back of the single-engine plane after a fishing trip in the Bahamas when the pilot told him and another passenger: “Guys, I gotta tell you I don’t feel good.”
“He said, ‘I’ve got a headache and I’m fuzzy and I just don’t feel right,'" the 39-year-old flooring salesman said. “And I said, ‘What do we need to do?’ and at that point he didn’t respond at all.”
“All I saw when I came up to the front was water out the right window and I knew it was coming quick. At that point I knew if I didn’t react, that we would die,” Harrison told NBC.
Harrison, of Lakeland, landed the plane at Palm Beach International Airport a short time later with the assistance from Air Traffic Controller Bobby Morgan.
An ambulance was waiting at the airport and Allen was taken first to St. Mary's Medical Center in West Palm Beach, where he was suffering signs of a stroke that left the left side of his face droopy and the loss of movement on one side of his body.
Patel said when doctors discovered Allen needed complex cardiac care, he was transferred to Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center.
When Allen arrived, he was “confused and lethargic," Patel said. He then underwent a nine-hour procedure to correct the aortic dissection.
Patel and his team stopped the blood flow to every organ except Allen’s brain, which meant his body temperature was cooled.
“When you cool someone down that low, the clock is ticking,” Patel said. He said Allen had no excessive bleeding during the surgery or afterward.
“The moment that he was describing to his friends on the plane, ‘Hey guys, I don’t feel well. I have the worst headache of my life. I’m feeling fuzzy, dizzy.’ That is the exact event that the tear occurred in his aorta,” Patel said. “To be able to survive that acute event was really quite remarkable.”