Suburban College Student Takes EpiPen Case to Capitol Hill

Alexa Jordan started feeling ill after eating a salad on a flight from Boston to Chicago

A Chicago-area college student who has mounted a one-woman campaign to equip airliners with potentially life-saving drugs made a trip to Capitol Hill this week, after an episode where she says she became ill after ingesting a nut on a flight from Boston to Chicago.

Alexa Jordan appeared before congressional staffers at the invitation of U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., to describe the incident after NBC 5 first reported her case in June.

“Not only am I looking to have autoinjectors on airplanes,” Alexa Jordan told NBC 5. “I really believe there needs to be a heightened level of training for these allergic reactions that are occurring.”

Last spring, 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. Jordan said she has a severe allergy to tree nuts, and has since determined that her carry-out salad had been cross-contaminated with cashews.

“My throat started tingling, my tongue started tingling, and I could not believe it,” Jordan told NBC 5 Investigates. “I told them my throat was getting tight and it was getting really difficult to breathe.”

“Even the smallest amount, I can have a fatal reaction,” she said.

When Jordan started feeling ill, she said she flagged down a flight attendant, and asked if they had any Benadryl on board. That medication, she said, 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 EpiPen, 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.”

After her Capitol appearance Thursday, Jordan told NBC 5 she is convinced her drive for equipping aircraft has bi-partisan support.

“People want to save lives,” she said. “I think that this is something that we can all come together, regardless of our political leanings, to say this is something necessary that needs to happen.”

Duckworth echoed those sentiments, saying the anti-allergy injectors should be available in all public places.

“This is really important because when you’re in an aircraft, you can’t go anywhere,” she said. “You’re trapped, ambulances can’t get to you, so you need to be able to access the life-saving medication that should be in these on-board medical kits.”

Jordan said in the case where she got sick, 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.

As NBC 5 reported in June, Southwest disputed 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.”

Jordan insisted that account wasn’t accurate.

“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 as the law is currently written, 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 conceded 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.”

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