Elderly Man Had Urine Sucked Out of Bladder On International Flight?! An Unexpected “Air Disaster” That Brings Attention to Bladder Care

Senior Health


By: Joy Stephenson-Laws, J.D., Founder


The following story really caught my attention. Not only is this story just shocking in itself, but it also brings up an issue we really don’t talk a lot about - bladder care and health.

Recently on a plane traveling from China to New York, an elderly passenger needed medical attention due to having almost a liter of urine trapped in his bladder.

Now visualize a liter of soda in a bottle. That’s a lot of urine! 

“Each day, adults pass about a quart and a half of urine through the bladder and out of the body,” according to the National Institute on Aging.

Think of a quart of milk, which is not that much smaller than a liter.

According to one news report, the unnamed passenger complained to the cabin crew that he could not urinate about 10 hours into the flight. The plane still had another six hours to go before landing. The pilot called for medical assistance, and, luckily, there were a couple of surgeons on board.

What these surgeons did was pretty incredible. Basically, they punctured the passenger’s bladder “...and improvised a makeshift catheter using a plastic tube from a portable oxygen cylinder, a syringe from the plane's first-aid kit, a plastic straw from a milk carton and some tape,” according to the report.

The doctors could see that if they didn’t act quickly the man’s bladder could have ruptured, which could have had deadly consequences. The passenger was very bloated, sweating a lot and going into shock. He was placed on a blanket in a more spacious area of the plane when the surgeons started working on him.

Reportedly, the passenger’s family said he had a history of prostate enlargement (which happens to almost all men as they get older, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH)).

An enlarged prostate may have been causing him to retain urine.

After the surgeons attempted to save the man with makeshift medical equipment, they realized the syringe needle was too thin to get the job done. So one of the surgeons siphoned out the urine with his mouth! According to the report, he was “sucking most of the fluid over half an hour and then spitting it out into an empty wine bottle.”

You can actually watch footage of the incident on Twitter, here

Because of these doctors’ brave actions, the passenger survived this horrific incident. Enough said. 

Now let’s discuss an organ we really don’t talk a lot about - the bladder.

Talking about bladders and pee is not exactly as sexy as talking about the brain or the heart. But a healthy bladder is extremely important to our overall health and well-being. 

The bladder is a hollow organ located in the lower abdomen. Think of it as being like a balloon that holds urine. The bladder is about the size and shape of a pear when empty. Along with the kidneys, ureters, urethra and urethral sphincter, the bladder is part of the urinary system.

The kidney and urinary systems help the body to eliminate liquid waste called urea, and to keep chemicals, such as potassium and sodium, and water in balance,” reports Johns Hopkins Medicine.

“Urea is produced when foods containing protein, such as meat, poultry, and certain vegetables, are broken down in the body. Urea is carried in the bloodstream to the kidneys, where it is removed along with water and other wastes in the form of urine.”

The bladder and the brain.

The bladder and the brain work together more than you may realize. Muscles and nerves in the urinary system have to work in unison to hold urine in the bladder and then release it.

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), “Nerves carry messages from the bladder to the brain to let it know when the bladder is full. They also carry messages from the brain to the bladder, telling muscles either to tighten or release.”

So having nerve issues can disrupt this important system and affect bladder control. NIDDK identifies three different kinds of bladder control problems that can result from nerves that do not work properly.

  • Overactive bladder. Having nerve damage may send signals to the bladder at the wrong time. This condition may cause:
    • Urinary frequency, urination eight or more times a day and two or more times at night.
    • Urinary urgency, the strong urge to urinate immediately. Often comes out of nowhere.
    • Urge incontinence, leakage of urine that follows a strong, sudden urge to urinate.
  • Poor control of sphincter muscles. These muscles are located around the urethra (the duct that transmits urine from the bladder to the outside of the body during urination). Sphincter muscles keep the urethra closed to hold urine in the bladder. If these muscles experience nerve damage, the muscles may become loose which can lead to leakage. Or on the other end of the spectrum, the muscles may stay tight when you are trying to release urine
  • Urine retention. “For some people, nerve damage means their bladder muscles do not get the message that it is time to release urine or are too weak to completely empty the bladder,” reports NIDDK. “If the bladder becomes too full, urine may back up and the increasing pressure may damage the kidneys. Or urine that stays too long may lead to an infection in the kidneys or bladder. Urine retention may also lead to overflow incontinence.”

Causes of nerve damage?

There are multiple possible causes of nerve damage, such as diabetes, stroke and heavy metal poisoning, which is why it is imperative to take care of your overall health.

Other potential causes include vaginal childbirth, infections of the brain or spinal cord, accidents that injure the brain or spinal cord and multiple sclerosis.

With age, comes bladder changes.

“As you get older, the bladder changes. The elastic bladder tissue may toughen and become less stretchy. A less stretchy bladder cannot hold as much urine as before and might make you go to the bathroom more often. The bladder wall and pelvic floor muscles may weaken, making it harder to empty the bladder fully and causing urine to leak,” National Institute on Aging.

And, as mentioned, with the case of the elderly man on the plane, he had a history of prostate enlargement which may cause urine retention.

How can we be proactive?

Like the prevention of most health-related issues, it is important to maintain a healthy weight, eat healthily and avoid smoking in order to have as healthy of a bladder as possible.

With older age, there will naturally be some changes to the bladder (same case with hearing, eyesight and other functions of the body), but this does not mean that we cannot take proactive steps to delay some these changes.

“Many things can affect bladder health. You can’t control everything that affects bladder health, but there are many bladder health behaviors that you can control,” reports the National Institute on Aging.

Some of these behaviors include:

  • Prevent constipation. Being constipated can put pressure on the bladder due to stool build-up. This may deter the bladder from expanding the way it should. Make sure to drink adequate amounts of water and eat plenty of fiber-rich foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains.
  • As mentioned, try to prevent diabetes which can lead to nerve damage.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Having excess weight makes you more prone to leaking urine.
  • Watch the alcohol and caffeine. Both of these can make existing bladder issues worse.
  • Do pelvic floor exercises. “Pelvic floor exercises, also known as Kegel exercises, help hold urine in the bladder. Daily exercises can strengthen these muscles, which can help keep urine from leaking when you sneeze, cough, lift, laugh, or have a sudden urge to urinate,” according to the National Institute on Aging.

For additional things you can do to be proactive about bladder care, read here.


Enjoy your healthy life!


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