Rheumatology fellow physician’s vacation turns into a life-saving scene straight out of a movie

Gatr-Alnada (Gatra) Gheriani, MBChB, first-year rheumatology fellow physician, and her husband, Mahmod El-Tayash MBChB, FACS, a general surgeon at the Grinnell Regional Medical Center, were in the pursuit of a relaxing vacation. Although Gheriani and El-Tayash both love their specialties, a getaway from the fast-paced clinics and procedure rooms was very overdue.

“He had just finished his fellowship in minimal invasive/bariatric surgery,” Gheriani says. “Surgery residency is difficult. Currently I’m in a fellowship, so we kind of wanted to escape for a bit.” With their two young boys, the family set off for the beaches of Hawaii.

Gatr-Alnada (Gatra) Gheriani, MBChB, and her husband, Mahmod El-Tayash MBChB, FACS, stand together on the beach while their sons run around them.

Gatr-Alnada (Gatra) Gheriani, MBChB, and her husband, Mahmod El-Tayash MBChB, FACS, were in the pursuit of a relaxing vacation.

Beach vacation turns into a life-saving experience

Their escape from medicine did not last long, however.

Gheriani and El-Tayash were lounging on the beach, enjoying the warm sun and the sound of the waves crashing on the shore. Their boys played in the sand at their feet. It was a perfect contrast from the cold Iowa winter.

As Gheriani and her husband watched the shoreline, a shape in the water emerged. It was an unconscious person.

“All of a sudden, the waves wash up this man,” says Gheriani. “Like what happens in movies.”

The man was floating on his back, his arms spread out and a surfboard attached to his ankle. Within seconds, Gheriani and her husband jumped to their feet. El-Tayash began running toward the man. Before following him, Gheriani first took a few seconds to make sure her kids were safe.

“I have two boys right at my feet,” says Gheriani. “And they were scared because they don’t know we’re doctors. They just know us as Mama and Baba. And you can’t leave a four- and a six-year-old just unattended.”

In this strange situation, Gheriani found her two worlds colliding: her responsibilities as a mother and her responsibilities as a physician. She did not want to scare her kids. Luckily, a kind woman took the boys over to play with her children.

“It was a mom-to-mom moment where I looked at her, and I had to trust her with my kids,” explains Gheriani. “She did exactly what I wanted her to do without even me telling her. She took my kids, and she put them with their backs toward the shore, so they couldn’t see anything.”

Jumping into action

The moment Gheriani knew her children were safe and distracted, she jumped into action. She ran to the man in the water and helped her husband pull him onto the beach.

“I noticed on the left of his forehead, he had evidence of head trauma,” says Gheriani.

After placing the man on the surfboard, Gheriani and El-Tayash stabilized his neck and checked for a pulse. He was in cardiac arrest.

While a bystander called 911, Gheriani and El-Tayash performed CPR for three minutes before return of spontaneous circulation was achieved. He then began seizing, so the couple put him on his right side to prevent aspiration and keep his airway open. After the seizure passed, he slowly regained consciousness.

Twenty minutes later when the ambulance arrived, Gheriani and her husband had already resuscitated the man. In a post-ictal state, he began to speak and was moving all limbs.

Just as Gheriani finished writing a note to the ER physician relaying the events, the police arrived.

“They started interrogating me,” she says. “He kept asking if I was an MD. Then asking if I was an MD here or are an MD in the mainland? I didn’t know how to respond! ‘What are you talking about? Hold on a second!’”

Gheriani, still recovering from the shock and adrenaline of saving a person’s life, started to question the legality of the situation.

“I was thinking ‘oh my gosh, am I going to get in trouble?’’’ explains Gheriani. “What did I do? Why is he asking me where I’m an MD at?”

Gheriani sent a group message to her mentors back at Iowa in the Rheumatology division. After catching them up on the story, Gheriani asked for advice regarding the police’s inquiries and whether or not she needed a lawyer.

Gheriani’s mentors reassured her that there was nothing to worry about on the legal front. Thanks to their advice, Gheriani was able to finish the police report with confidence and return to her vacation.

“I went back to my children, and then it dawned on me, ‘Oh my God, how lucky can you be that the shores bring you all the way in front of a surgeon and an internal medicine physician?’” she says. “The waves could have taken him in front of anyone.”

Gheriani and El-Tayash still are shocked by the miracle. She is sure it will be one of the most memorable parts of their Hawaii trip as the years pass.

“The man was lucky and I’m happy he survived,” Gheriani said. “This is what you’re trained to do. He was very lucky.”


  1. This is the most amazing story ever. How fortunate that man is. It sounds like you both are amazing physicians and parents.

  2. Thankfully both of you were in the right place at the right time for this man. You can tell others that you unexpectedly worked while you were on vacation.

  3. What an amazing story! This man was very lucky indeed, thanks to your quick thinking.

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