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Special Needs Teacher Comes To The Rescue On Flight


We've heard it in the movies if not in real life. Someone takes sick, and the call goes out. Is there a doctor in the house? But who's ever heard anyone ask - is there a teacher? Well, that cry for help went out on a flight to Melbourne, Australia, and Sophie Murphy answered the call. Sophie Murphy joins us now from Melbourne to tell us what happened. Thanks for joining us, Sophie.

SOPHIE MURPHY: Oh, thank you very much for having me, Lynn.

NEARY: Sophie, what was the situation that was occurring that required you to help?

MURPHY: Sure. There was a young boy who was about 14 years old, a boy with Down Syndrome. And he was feeling really unwell and so had actually put - was lying down on the floor in the middle of the aisle with his face toward the pilot and lying on his stomach. And his parents were on the plane, and his brother and sister were on the plane. And they were perhaps in their 20s. And he was really upset. He was feeling itchy. He was feeling scared, and no one could move him at that time.

NEARY: And so the plane couldn't land because he wouldn't get off the floor?

MURPHY: Correct. We were circling above Melbourne at the time, as they suggested that it was becoming more of an emergency situation as they were starting to run out of fuel - I only found this out afterwards - that that's when they called for a teacher.

NEARY: What did you do to help him? And how did you get him to finally get into a seat?

MURPHY: Well, when I heard it, I thought this can't be serious. But when they then called again, I walked down the aisle and I lay down on the floor with him. So I guess my instant reaction as a teacher and special needs teacher of nearly 20 years - that I knew that the relationship was the most important thing that I needed to gain with this little boy. And so not really looking at anyone else or the emergency, just connecting with this little boy.

So I laid down on the floor, and I faced him. And I said hi, my name's Sophie. I'm a teacher. What's your name? And he said that his name was Shamran. I then asked him what his favorite book was. He said it was "Winnie The Pooh." I said oh, my goodness. That's my favorite book, too. And we started to talk about the characters of "Winnie The Pooh" as we were facing each other and looking at each other. And he was really happy having that conversation. And then I just asked him if I could hold his hands and if he would sit next to me. We held hands. He actually was sick and then was vomiting and was sick. And from what was a late-night, quite cranky flight, everyone came together and was very helpful when I asked for sick bags. I then asked for wipes or tissues - again, a sea of tissues and wipes. And everyone was silent, just taking it all in and being very supportive of me and of this lovely little boy.

NEARY: Well, I'm sure that all of your fellow passengers were very grateful that they could finally land.

MURPHY: Yeah, they were. And they came up to me and took me afterwards. Even one passenger who was sitting right behind Shamran said that her husband was a young doctor. And she had asked him if he could get up when he was initially lying on the floor. And he said to her - I'm really not sure what to do. And she just said I have to say that, you know, we were both sitting there and he was literally taking notes in his mind about how he would go about speaking to people in his profession and was so grateful to hear that. So that was a really lovely message.

And this was not just me. This was what teachers do. This is what they do in their classrooms every day. They problem solve, and they connect with children on a daily basis. And any one of my colleagues and friends who are teachers would have done exactly the same.

NEARY: Sophie Murphy is a special needs teacher in Melbourne, Australia. Thanks so much for talking with us, Sophie.

MURPHY: Thanks so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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