Mom of boy who suffered near-fatal allergic reaction on flight says airline didn't do enough

Luca and the American Airlines crew after he suffered anaphylaxis from eating a cashew. (Photo: Facebook/Francine Valerie Ingrassia)
Luca and the American Airlines crew after he suffered anaphylaxis from eating a cashew. (Photo: Facebook/Francine Valerie Ingrassia)

A 10-year-old old boy who suffered a near-fatal allergy attack after consuming one cashew on an airplane was saved by quick-thinking passengers. Now his mom is asking American Airlines why it didn’t do more to help her child.

On Wednesday, Francine Valerie Ingrassia detailed her horrific ordeal in a Facebook post that received more than 1,000 likes and shares. “I’m sharing my story to RAISE Awareness. My son had serious Anaphylaxis symptoms on our flight home last night,” she wrote. “He ate one cashew from the nut mix he was served on our flight and within minutes he had severe stomach pain, chest pain and stridor breathing. If it was not for the quick thinking stewardess on the plane, the nurse who administered the epi pen and cared for him the entire trip, and passengers who gave us their epi pens, this would have been fatal.”

Ingrassia added, “American Airlines had no epi-pens in their medical kits. We were not aware of any allergies that our son had with cashews before this flight… the scariest thing was that American Airlines did not have an epi pen in their medical kits and served nuts on a plane? We need to change this. Shame on American Airlines for not having an epi pen in their medical kits.”

I’m sharing my story to RAISE Awareness. My son had Serious Anaphylaxis symptoms on our flight home last night. He ate…

Posted by Francine Val on Wednesday, February 28, 2018

On Feb. 27th, Ingrassia and her four children, ages 18, 15, 12, and 10, were flying home to Garden City, New York from Aruba, where they had spent the week on vacation.

About 30 minutes into the flight, her 10-year-old son Luca was offered a cup of warmed mixed nuts (cashews, almonds, and pistachios) from the First Class in-flight food cart, a snack, his mom says, he eats “all the time.”

But 15 minutes after consuming a single cashew, Luca started complaining of stomach and chest pain, and a tickling sensation in his throat. His face also turned red and he had trouble breathing. “None of my children have nut allergies but I knew immediately he was in trouble,” Ingrassia tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “I called over the flight attendant and said, ‘What can we do? Look at his face, he’s having an allergy attack.’”

Luca was experiencing anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction that sends the body into shock within minutes or hours of ingesting an allergen. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms include stridor breathing, (a wheezing sound that occurs when the airway is constricted), skin rashes, nausea, and low blood pressure. The treatment for anaphylaxis is an injection of epinephrine (adrenalin), typically administered with a prescriptive Epi-Pen, which relaxes the airway muscles to allow breathing.

The bowl of warmed mixed nuts that caused Luca’s allergic reaction. (Photo: Courtesy of Francine Valerie Ingrassia)
The bowl of warmed mixed nuts that caused Luca’s allergic reaction. (Photo: Courtesy of Francine Valerie Ingrassia)

Ingrassia says the flight attendant requested an emergency landing in the Dominican Republic, then over the intercom, asked if there was a doctor or nurse on board.

Fortunately, a fellow passenger, a nurse from St. Louis, rushed over and yelled for an Epi-Pen. “The crew said they didn’t have any Epi-Pens or Benadryl, so two teenage girls offered their own pens, the first of which didn’t work,” says Ingrassia. However, the second pen, fortunately, an adult portion appropriate for Luca’s 66-pound weight, was a success.

About an hour or so later, the plane landed in Miami for its scheduled connecting flight and paramedics treated Luca on board, providing the family with a Junior Epi-Pen, which Ingrassia says wasn’t appropriate for her son.

“In the airport, I asked a manager to please stop serving nuts on our connecting flight,” said the mom. “He said he couldn’t do that because it would be an infringement on the rights of other passengers. He also advised me that if I told the crew on the connecting flight about Luca’s reaction, they would send me to the hospital.”

Per the company website, patients are urged to visit the emergency room after using the Epi-Pen, in the event that the dosage wears off or a second attack occurs. “Neither the paramedics or American Airlines told me to go to the hospital,” says Ingrassia. “When we boarded our connecting flight, I told the crew what happened and asked them to stop serving nuts. They said ‘no’ because that wouldn’t be fair to the other first-class passengers.”

Luca and the nurse who saved his life. (Photo: Facebook/Francine Valerie Ingrassia)
Luca and the nurse who saved his life. (Photo: Facebook/Francine Valerie Ingrassia)

According to Bruce M. Prenner, M.D., a board-certified allergist at Allergy Partners of San Diego, Luca’s reaction to cashews isn’t all that surprising. “Food allergies can develop suddenly with no prior warning, especially in regard to milk, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and eggs,” he tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Are there extraneous factors in our environment? We don’t understand it. We do know that carrying an epinephrine is crucial for reversing respiratory distress.”

Luca cannot return to school until his nut allergy is formally documented and filed since visiting a doctor, where he tested positive for allergies to all tree nuts. His mom now carries Epi-Pens. “Nurse Kelly was a complete miracle and she saved my son’s life,” says Ingrassia, adding that she reached out to a local St. Louis newspaper in the hopes of finding the woman and properly thanking her.

American Airlines spokesperson Michelle Mohr tells Yahoo Lifestyle, “We are grateful that Luca is O.K. and that our crew members and passengers, including a nurse, came together quickly to provide him the care he needed. We hope he is feeling better and understand how frightening the reaction must have been for him and his mother. We reached out to his mother and spoke with her this morning.”

Mohr added, “The medical kits onboard our aircraft comply with federal regulations and contain Epinephrine – the same medicine contained in an Epi-Pen. Our professional flight attendants are familiar with the contents of the onboard kits. They are able to provide general First Aid and are trained in CPR and using an AED. But we require a licensed medical professional to administer more extensive forms of treatment like injections for the health and safety of our customers.

“We are following up with our crew to thank them for moving quickly to take care of Luca and to learn more about the situation onboard and how they managed it. We thank our crew members and our passengers onboard for moving fast and working together to take care of Luca as quickly as possible.”

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