A Chicago-area college student has mounted a one-woman campaign to equip airliners with potentially life-saving drugs, after an episode where she says she became ill after ingesting a nut on a flight from Boston to Chicago.
“My throat started tingling, my tongue started tingling, and I could not believe it,” Alexa Jordan told NBC5 Investigates. “I told them my throat was getting tight and it was getting really difficult to breathe.”
Jordan had purchased a salad at Boston’s Logan Airport, as she prepared for a Southwest flight home to Chicago after her freshman year at Harvard. She says she has a severe allergy to tree nuts, and has since determined that her carry-out salad had been cross-contaminated with cashews.
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“Even the smallest amount, I can have a fatal reaction,” she said.
When she started feeling ill, she says she flagged down a flight attendant, and asked if they had any Benadryl on board. That medication, she says, is often a first line of defense in the event of a bad reaction.
“They said no, we don’t have any Benadryl,” she said. “Sorry!”
After that, she said she asked if they had an Epi-Pen, the auto-injector which delivers epinephrine, a quick treatment for severe allergic reactions. She had one, but noted that often, a second dose is required.
That, she said, was also met with a “no”.
“Really, I was terrified,” she said. “I was going into anaphylaxis at 35,000 feet in the air---it’s truly like the worst nightmare to be locked in a metal tube.”
Jordan said she told the flight attendant she was going to use her only epi-pen in the aircraft lavatory. There, she said she became ill, and spent the entire flight. She estimated a flight attendant asked twice if she was ok, but at one point suggested she lock the door.
She said she found that odd, if she had passed out.
Southwest disputes Jordan’s version of events. In an email to her father, the airline insisted everyone handled her situation appropriately.
“Our flight attendants offered to help Alexa by calling for a medical professional on board, and they also offered on more than one occasion to call our third party medical consultant,” the email stated. “Also, while Alexa informed our flight attendants that she had her own EpiPen, our flight attendants advised that Southwest had an EpiPen onboard and offered it to her. However, Alexa declined the EpiPen the flight attendants offered.”
“Despite their repeated offers to assist, Alexa said she did not need further assistance.”
Jordan insisted that account doesn’t match her experience.
“They said they offered me an EpiPen---they did not,” she said. “They did not even tell me there was epinephrine on the plane.”
It’s important to note that airlines are not required to carry epinephrine auto-injectors. The FAA only requires that they carry vials of epinephrine in their emergency medical kits, to be administered with syringes.
After a series of emails, a Southwest spokesman confirmed to NBC5 that the epinephrine they carry “is the ‘medical-grade’ version (needle, syringe) required by the FAA and that which requires medical oversight/recommendation.”
Jordan recovered from her episode. But she noted that former Illinois Senator Mark Kirk introduced a bill in 2015, which would have required EpiPens on all commercial flights, along with crew training on how to use them.
That proposed law went nowhere, but now she has mounted an online petition drive to bring it back---and as of Wednesday, over 12,000 people had signed on.
“If I can help make a change this is where it needs to happen,” she said. “Auto-injectors need to be on planes.”