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Medical student describes NY crash

I fully expected to die’

by Cindy Abole
Public Relations
It was supposed to be a trip typical of the ones fourth-year medical students take when searching for medical residency program positions across the country.
But for Andrew Jamison, 26, the trip to the Big Apple to interview for a residency spot ended Jan. 15 in the freezing cold water of New York’s Hudson River. 
“I fully expected to die, and I remember thinking to myself that I was indeed going to meet Jesus that day,” said Jamison, a Fort Mill native. “Yet somehow, I was feeling a sense of peace with it all.”
Andrew and Jennifer Jamison

For the previous three months, Andrew and wife, Jennifer, also a fourth-year MUSC medical student, had been busy traveling the Southeast and beyond, visiting hospitals and institutions in preparation for the national residency match day on March 19. This period already is one of the most stressful times for a medical student, and for Andrew and Jennifer, it only got more stressful, albeit miraculous and assuring.
Andrew had flown to New York a day ahead of his interview to attend an informal dinner. The next morning, he met with the staff of Albert Einstein College of Medicine—Montefiore Division of Dermatology Residency Training Program in the Bronx.
When Andrew’s meet-ing ended around midday on Jan. 15, he decided to head home to rest and prepare for the next round of residency interviews and trips. By chance, he was able to make an earlier flight, US Airways Flight 1549, leaving LaGuardia Airport for Charlotte’s Douglas International Airport around 2:45 p.m. He text-messaged his wife on his cell phone to let her know of his change of plans. He had not anticipated that this change would involve a harrowing nine-hour period that would thrust him and others into commercial avia-tion history.

Matching for a future
Andrew, a 2005 biosystems engineer-ing graduate from Clemson, had his sights on fulfilling a lifelong dream of becoming a doctor. He had done well in medical school, where he met and married Jennifer. As a student, he was inducted into MUSC’s Chapter of Omega Alpha Omega Medical Honor Society and participated in medical mission trips to Romania and Morocco as part of MUSC’s Medical Campus Outreach group and his church, East Cooper Baptist Church. And he began to pursue a challenging dermatology residency, which is considered among the most competitive residency programs in which a physician can specialize.
While competing for a job, he joined 155 passengers in a race for survival when their flight glided above New York City before landing in the river.
“I had just made the flight and wasn’t really paying much attention to the pre-flight information when we took off,” Andrew recalled. “I remember waiting for the ‘all-clear’ signal from the cabin staff, which gave permission to passengers to use their laptop computers and electronic devices. That’s when I heard a loud thud as the plane lurched forward.”
A female passenger to Andrew’s right said she saw smoke coming out of the plane’s right engine. Instinctively, he turned his attention to observe the reactions of the flight attendants. One attendant quickly asked a passenger in the back row behind Andrew to get up as she struggled to remove an item from behind his seat. The smell of smoke became more pungent inside the cabin.
Andrew knew enough about planes to know that it was possible for a plane to temporarily fly on one engine in an emergency. He paused to hear for any unusual aircraft sounds, but instead, it was deathly silent. He felt the plane suddenly descend and bank left. At that moment, he didn’t know if the plane was returning to LaGuardia.

The din of silence
Amid eerie quiet and calm, people slowly realized the severity of the situation. A slow rise of murmurs, groans and sobbing gave way to faint whispers of desperate prayers as the plane descended. Andrew calmly acknowledged the passengers around him and asked if he could share and recite a prayer with them. They agreed.
“I find that whenever I’m facing a difficult situation I can turn to God and prayer,” Andrew said with confidence.
In those desperate, tense-filled moments, Andrew spoke calmly of God’s sovereign blessings, and reminded others that God was in control of all things, especially airplanes without engines.
A mobile phone picture depics the aftermath and rescue of Flight 1549 in New York's Hudson River Jan. 15.  photo by Reuters employee Paula Warfield

At that moment, the cool, controlled voice of the flight’s pilot, Capt. Chelsey “Sulley” Sullenberger, announced, “Brace for impact.”
Once Sullenberger had guided the aircraft through a remarkable water landing, Andrew heard the waves sloshing against the plane’s fuselage. He began to feel the stinging cold saltwater around his ankles. Then, the crew directed passengers to the front of the plane where they abandoned the aircraft through both the wing and forward front exit doors. Within minutes, rescue teams were on the scene retrieving passengers and transferring them aboard terminal ferries that took them to safety.
  After he boarded a life raft, Andrew began assessing other passengers for injuries. One man had jumped in the river during the rescue attempt. After the man was rescued to the raft, Andrew reverted to his medical skills and instructed others to keep the man warm by wrapping him with available clothes and guided others to huddle around him, like penguins do to protect each other from the elements. Later, Andrew led his fellow passengers in a prayer of thanksgiving for the rescue and outcome.
    Meanwhile, Jennifer, who is pursuing a family medicine residency, had just ended her rotation in the dermatology clinic in Rutledge Tower when she received a call from her father. She had not checked her phone for messages and had been unaware of the plane crash or Andrew’s situation. After learning that he was safe, she waited at home until he was able to reconfirm his plans on getting home.

A thankful reunion
“I’ve always had the tendency to worry, especially when we’re not together,” said Jennifer. “But my faith has only strengthened since that day and a new peace has filled my heart. I can rest easy knowing that my husband is not going anywhere a moment before it is his time.”

Word also spread to friends and faculty back at MUSC including Chris Pelic, M.D., associate dean of students in the College of Medicine. Andrew had worked with Pelic for six weeks while completing a third-year psychiatry clerkship in the Institute of Psychiatry.
“Andrew is a bright, genuine, compassionate, thoughtful and mature young man who worked so well with a variety of patients during his clerkship,” said Pelic. “I was not surprised to know how well he had handled the situation in New York. His qualities and attributes came out loud and clear and will certainly be an asset as he begins to help patients and provide patient care.”
Not dissuaded by flying, Andrew and 10 of the other passengers boarded another plane for home that same day. On this flight, most of them sat near the exit rows. Andrew arrived safely in Charlotte on time where he met Jennifer and his parents.
“Although it was a surreal experience, it certainly has brought certain things in life more into focus and that is what’s important and what’s not. Right now, just going through the residency match process is worrisome and I and others wonder if we will or will not match. But I’ve quickly learned there’s worse things in life than not matching,” Andrew said.
He always knew in his heart that something more powerful was in control that fateful day.
“Going through this experience has certainly affirmed my faith, strength and trust in God,” Andrew said. “The real heroes of that day are Capt. Sullenberger, the flight crew and all the New York City rescue teams.”  

Two days later, Andrew boarded a plane to attend another residency interview in Providence, R.I. But this time, he met up with Jennifer, who had interviewed in a nearby town, and they flew home together. For the moment, there are no immediate plane trips in Andrew’s future. He can get to the remaining residency interviews by car.

Friday, Jan. 30, 2009

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