If it hadn't been for quick-acting flight crew, Cheryl Nicholson's new life would have been over before it started.
And the follow-up treatment the 58-year-old American received from an airline crew member has convinced her that "Father Christmas is alive and well in the hearts of the Kiwis".
Mrs Nicholson and her husband, Jon, were aboard an Air New Zealand flight from San Francisco on their way to start a new life in Hastings.
They were two hours out of Auckland when she felt a sharp pain "like an elephant had kicked me in the chest".
She passed out at the back of the plane while trying to reach the toilet, and Air NZ sprang into action.
With the help of a passenger who was an emergency department doctor at a German hospital, flight attendants gave Mrs Nicholson oxygen and put her on an intravenous drip.
As she slipped in and out of consciousness, Mrs Nicholson was able to say the word "cello" - she had carried a cello on board - to help staff find where her husband was sitting.
Doctors later found she had a pulmonary embolism - a blockage of an artery between the heart and lungs, caused when a blood clot from a vein is dislodged and travels to the lungs.
The Nicholsons are from Colorado, and Mrs Nicholson believes the embolism happened because her blood is thick and has more red cells than usual as a result of living at high altitude in Woodlands Park, a city more than 2600m above sea level.
Embolisms can strike people who have been sitting for a long period - such as on an international flight - although Mrs Nicholson said she took a herbal blood thinner before she left and exercised and drank water during the long-haul trip.
"The doctors and the emergency room staff told me that if it hadn't been for Air New Zealand being as well-equipped as they were, as well as the doctor being on board to take advantage of what Air New Zealand had ... She was able to save my life and they did, they all did," she said.
The pilot made an extra effort to land as smoothly as possible at Auckland, because Mrs Nicholson was lying on the floor of the aircraft without a safety belt.
A waiting ambulance took her and her husband to Middlemore Hospital, where doctors confirmed the pulmonary embolism diagnosis and Mrs Nicholson was put on blood thinners.
The couple had been booked on a domestic flight to Hawkes Bay Airport. Friends waiting for them were dismayed when they didn't arrive, but traced them by phoning Auckland hospitals and medical centres.
The day after Mrs Nicholson's dramatic arrival in New Zealand, the head flight attendant on the aircraft, Beauregard Fielding, visited her in hospital.
Days later, when she was discharged he returned, waited for the couple to fill out paperwork and drove them to a friend's home in Devonport.
"It says a lot for Air New Zealand to employ such people because he did this all on his own," Mrs Nicholson said.
"And then he came and picked us up at the hospital, put us in his Volkswagen and off he went ... and then he continued to call.
"I got a call from him yesterday as he left on an LA flight, wishing us Merry Christmas and saying he and his partner would be coming to see us soon."
Mrs Nicholson is to start work as a medical laboratory scientist at Hawkes Bay Hospital next month, and her husband will teach music.
The couple were supposed to be in the country by October, but were delayed until their December 14 flight.
"For most of the past year Cheryl and I have been jumping through the hoops to emigrate to New Zealand," Mr Nicholson said.
"If there were any doubts about the wisdom of our decision before this trip, they are all gone now. Truly the love and spirit of Father Christmas is here."
The Nicholsons are in New Zealand on three-year work visas, but are hoping to gain residency.