A vacation to Aruba quickly turned into a nightmare for a Garden City mom when her 10-year-old son had a dangerous allergic reaction to a cashew on the flight home.
Thanks to quick-thinking passengers and staff on the American Airlines plane, Luca Ingrassia survived. Now his mother, Francine Ingrassia, is trying to raise awareness about food allergies and the limited medical care available on airplanes.
“It was a nightmare on a plane,” Ingrassia said.
In a Feb. 28 Facebook post, Ingrassia called for airlines to include EpiPens in their emergency kits, especially on flights where nuts are served. The post was shared more than 1,750 times and received more than 2,700 likes.
“It’s like not putting in a fire extinguisher or having one and not knowing how to use it,” she said.
Ingrassia and her four children had settled into their seats for their return flight on Feb. 27 when airline staff handed out a snack of mixed cashews, almonds and pistachios, which her children eat regularly.
But 15 minutes later, Luca told his mother he had chest and stomach pain and was having trouble breathing.
“I saw his face was completely flushed,” she said.
A flight attendant called for any passengers with medical experience to come forward. A nurse seated a few rows over examined Luca, whose airway was closing up, while the flight attendant put out a call for an EpiPen, Ingrassia said.
Two passengers offered up theirs.
The pilots had originally planned to make an emergency landing in the Dominican Republic but continued to Miami when Luca stabilized with the EpiPen injection. Paramedics met the family at the Miami airport and checked Luca’s vitals before the Ingrassias continued on to New York.
“We are grateful that Luca is OK and that our crew members and passengers, including a nurse, came together quickly to provide him the care he needed,” said Michelle Mohr, an American Airlines spokeswoman.
Mohr said airline flight attendants receive basic first aid, CPR and AED training. Emergency kits contain four vials of epinephrine — the medication dispensed by EpiPens — and syringes, but airline policy requires a licensed medical professional to perform any injections.
An EpiPen, meanwhile, is an “auto-injector,” meaning it already contains epinephrine and does not require the additional time to fill a syringe with the medication.
Mohr said while frightening, cases like what happened to Luca are rare, with the airline using epinephrine only five times between 2011 and 2016.
Ingrassia said she had not been made aware of any epinephrine vials on the flight. She was also dismayed that nuts were served again on a connecting flight, though Luca fortunately did not have any further reactions.
At home, a doctor diagnosed Luca with a tree nut allergy. The family said they also received an apology from American Airlines. Ingrassia doesn’t fault the staff she dealt with, who were “compassionate,” but said she’s unhappy with the company’s policies.
“I was upset they had their hands tied,” she said.