NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Every airline has a checklist before take-off, but advocates for people with food allergies say there’s a life-saving medication missing from too many flight emergency kits.
Now, CBS2’s Jessica Layton reports on the fight to get epinephrine auto injectors – better known as EpiPens – on planes after a doctor saved a stranger mid-flight.
A happy handshake during a reunion between a doctor and a patient only happened because fate put them on the same flight from JFK to Tel Aviv. Matt Faraco says he normally doesn’t have allergies but his hands began to swell.
“So I went to the flight attendant and asked if she had an EpiPen,” Faraco said.
The reaction rapidly got worse.
“When I went to sit back down I was talking to a friend and I felt my throat close up.”
“We’re over the Atlantic Ocean at that point,” Dr. Mikhail Varshavski said.
Dr. Varshavski – known as “Dr. Mike” to millions of social media and YouTube fans – jumped at the call to help.
“I break open their kit, emergency kit, and to my shock there’s no EpiPen… There’s multiple forms of epinephrine vials with weird dilutions on them… So here I am at 30,000 feet trying to calculate dosages from my memory.”
This life threatening scenario is not isolated. Last year, Luca Ingrassia of Long Island had a serious allergic reaction to a cashew on a flight from Aruba.
“My throat started to tickle and stomach started to hurt and my chest started to hurt,” Ingrassia told CBS2.
“On land I would have called 911, but in the air what do you do?” Francine Ingrassia, Luca’s mother asked.
Another passenger gave the family an EpiPen. The Ingrassias are pushing to get every passenger plane stocked with epinephrine auto injectors, similar to the law requiring defibrillators on flights. It’s a fight Lianne Mandelbaum has been leading.
“You’ve got to have the right medication on board or we are just looking to name a law after someone who dies on a plane,” Mandelbaum said.
She says airlines have been given an exemption from the FAA for carrying epinephrine at all, citing a shortage.
The group Food Allergy Research and Education acknowledges there have been some shortages with brand specific Epi pens, but says airlines could get auto injectors from other manufacturers. Advocates say the resistance more likely comes from the cost.
“Airlines should not have an excuse about money… It’s about giving them time to get to the ground and survive the flight,” Dr. Varshavski said.
Sen. Chuck Schumer recently pointed out the cost would be about $2 million a year for every plane to carry EpiPens.
He and Dr. Mike say it’s something an industry making billions can afford.
CBS2’s Jessica Layton reached out to several airlines to find out their policies on carrying EpiPens on flights.
American Airlines sent the following statement:
Our Emergency Medical Kits have 100% of Epinephrine for Anaphylaxis. By the end of this year, all kits will have two Epinephrine Auto Injectors (one for Pediatrics and one for Adults).
Southwest Airlines added this statement:
In accordance with federal regulations, Southwest’s aircraft are equipped with Epinephrine (two in two concentrations) in the on-board Emergency Medical Kit (EMK). Contents of the EMK can be administered either by a medical professional onboard or at the direction of our on-call, third party medical consultant. We’ve had epinephrine in our EMKs since 2001.