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Woman Says Fellow Passengers Saved Her Life After She Collapsed on a Flight

May 07, 2018
4 min read
Woman Says Fellow Passengers Saved Her Life After She Collapsed on a Flight
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An American Airlines flight had to make an emergency landing after a woman nearly died when suffering from a severe allergic reaction.

The incident occurred on AA Flight 5471 from Philadelphia (PHL) to Cleveland (CLE) on Saturday afternoon. Soon after the Bombardier CRJ 700 took off Ashley Spencer, 28, wasn't feeling well.

She told her mother, who she was traveling with, that she needed to go to the restroom to possibly throw up. The pair was traveling in first class, and Spencer had to use the restroom in the rear of plane because there aren't any in the first class cabin. She vomited but still felt her throat closing up. She opened the bathroom door and fell out onto the floor.

Spencer was going into anaphylactic shock after experiencing an allergic reaction from a bag of chips she had eaten right before the flight. She has a peanut allergy and the chips may have contained nuts, Spencer told TPG. She purchased the chips from a popular Hudson-branded store right before her flight to avoid exactly what happened, she wanted to make sure she was eating something that wouldn't set off a reaction.

"I would never eat on the airplane to risk what happened," she said. Spencer said the gluten free/vegan chips label was free of any mention of nuts.

Fortunately for Spencer, there were two doctors onboard. Dr. Erich Kiehl, an electrophysiology fellow from the Cleveland Clinic and another MD from North Carolina, who was seated near the bathroom when Spencer fell down. The doctor from North Carolina sprang into action immediately, and a flight attendant put out the call asking if there were any medical professionals onboard — alerting Dr. Kiehl.

"I had stopped breathing, but still had a pulse," Spencer said.

The doctors administered two doses from an EpiPen, a device that contains adrenaline to combat the symptoms of an anaphylactic shock, which was enough to make Spencer alert and tell the doctors she was having an allergic reaction. In total she received four shots from the epi-pen.

Spencer also suffers from a rare autoimmune disease called eosinophilic granulomatosis with polyangiitis (EGPA) — meaning Spencer has had heart troubles, making the incident even more scary.

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"Dr. Kiehl took the bull by the horns," she said. He warned the flight attendants that "this is going to go bad real fast because of her condition." These words led the pilots to make the decision to make an emergency diversion to Pittsburgh (PIT) — where the aircraft landed at 2:36pm.

The flight attendants kept her in the back of the aircraft instead of moving her back to first class. Spencer says that Dr. Kiehl was actually trying to administer her an IV while the aircraft was landing because of the seriousness of the situation.

"I wouldn't wish [the situation] on my worst enemy," Spencer said.

When asked if she thinks the doctors saved her life, Spencer responded with "Absolutely, there's not a question in my mind."

"The American Airlines stewardess were fantastic — [they] remained calm the entire time and made sure no videos were taken," she said.

After landing, Spencer was taken to the emergency room where she was treated and eventually recovered from her reaction. The aircraft departed at 3:46pm for Cleveland after Spencer had been safely removed.

Spencer headed to Cleveland the next day, although she and her mother rented a car instead of flying to their final destination.

Oddly enough, the reason Spencer was in Cleveland was for medical tests at the Cleveland Clinic, where Dr. Kiehl works. She plans on meeting with him on Wednesday to thank him for his efforts.

"It's going to be very emotional," she said, adding that he was very humble when she messaged him and that he felt like he was just doing his job.

American Airlines provided TPG with the following statement regarding the incident:

"We appreciate the assistance of the two doctors, including Dr. Kiehl, who assisted our crew members in caring for Ms. Spencer. Our customer relations team will be reaching out to both doctors to offer our thanks and appreciation for their assistance on American Eagle flight 5471. We wish Ms. Spencer a speedy recovery.”

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