In October 2015, 2-Year Old Suffered An Asthma Attack On A Transatlantic Flight, And His Medication Was Packed In His Checked Baggage; Local Buffalo Doctor Thankfully Saved The Child’s Life With Innovative, Makeshift Device

Schumer Said Jarring Incident Shed Light On The Lack Of Certain Child-Sized Equipment And Doses Of Medication On Planes & Called On FAA To Conduct Review Of Kid’s Medical Equipment – Schumer Said FAA Would Be Required To Conduct This Review In Recently Introduced FAA Reauthorization Bill; Urges His Colleagues Support This Provision in the Final Bill

Schumer: Not Every Child May Be As Lucky; FAA Review Of Pediatric Medical Supplies & Child-Sized Inhalers Could Help Prevent Future Tragedy

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today announced that, following his push, the recently introduced Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill would require the agency to conduct a comprehensive review of its emergency medical equipment requirements for air carriers. Schumer said this bill – which has passed committee and awaits a full vote on the Senate floor – would require the FAA to conduct this review so it can determine if all airlines carry appropriate pediatric medical supplies and medicines. Schumer pushed for this requirement on the heels of a situation in which a 2-year-old boy suffered an asthma attack during a transatlantic flight and his family realized his medicine was stored below in a checked bag. Thankfully, the boy was saved when a local Buffalo doctor, Dr. Khurshid Guru of Roswell Park Cancer Institute, was able to construct a makeshift breathing device when time was of the essence. Schumer explained that although FAA regulations require airlines to carry adult inhalers on all flights, there is currently no such requirement for pediatric inhalers or certain other pediatric medical supplies and medicines. As a result, Schumer said this comprehensive review would help the FAA determine whether requirements should be changed to include additional pediatric medical devices, like child inhalers, on airplanes. Schumer urged his colleagues in Congress to support this provision and ensure that it is included in the final FAA reauthorization bill. 

“It is welcome news that this bill would require FAA to conduct a comprehensive review of its medical equipment requirements to ensure that the supplies our kids need are on board. This fix is a no-brainer and would ensure a child’s asthma attack or other medical emergency could be treated as quickly as possible, and allow everyone to breathe a sigh of relief knowing their children are more safe,” said Schumer. “At 35,000 feet, there is very little a parent can do if their child suffers from an asthma attack or other medical emergency and the medicine or equipment they need is not in the overhead compartment, or if it malfunctions. So I am urging my colleagues in Congress to support this provision and make this requirement a reality – because this is a nightmare scenario no parent should ever have to go through.”

Schumer explained that, during the October 2015 flight, the Buffalo doctor was forced to create a makeshift breathing device out of a water bottle, an oxygen mask and an adult inhaler when the young boy stopped breathing and it was discovered his medication was packed into his checked luggage and could not be accessed during the flight. Schumer explained that, given the difference in how adult and pediatric inhalers administer medication, a child suffering from an asthma attack often cannot use an adult inhaler, especially at a very young age. As a result, Schumer urged the FAA to conduct a comprehensive review of its emergency medical equipment requirements to ensure that the equipment and medications needed to meet the needs of children, including pediatric inhalers, are carried on all flights in order to prevent a future nightmare situation for a parent during a flight.

Schumer said it is good news the FAA reauthorization bill would require the federal agency to conduct this review. Schumer explained that, currently, passenger flights are required to carry emergency medical kits (EMKs) in the event a passenger needs medical attention during a flight. These EMKs include a bronchodilator, inhaled – the official name of an inhaler that administers metered dosages of medication to stop asthma attacks. However, these devices may not be appropriate for children. While children suffering from asthma attacks also use inhalers, they often must use pediatric devices. Adult inhalers also require the patient to breathe out, breathe in the medication, hold their breath, and then breathe out again - a process that could be difficult for a child as young as two to comprehend, especially in an emergency situation, Schumer noted. Although parents or guardians are permitted to carry their child’s inhalers onto passenger planes, if an inhaler is packed into checked luggage, and is therefore inaccessible during flight, or if the child's inhaler malfunctions, an asthma attack could become a serious life-threatening situation.

Schumer said that while Dr. Guru, Director of Robotic Surgery at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, was able to use a water bottle, cup, tape and an oxygen tank to connect to an adult nebulizer to save the child, it is not always the case that a physician is even on board a plane. As a result, Schumer said more precautions must be put in place to ensure a child suffering from an asthma attack or other medical emergency can get the medical attention he or she needs, even if that situation occurs mid-flight. Despite this miraculous life-saving coincidence, Schumer said this situation served as a wake-up call about the need to ensure that airlines are prepared to handle child asthma attacks and other medical emergencies.

Schumer said it is critical that airlines be required to carry appropriate pediatric medical supplies on all flights to ensure children can receive the proper care if they experience medical emergencies. Last year Schumer therefore asked FAA to conduct a comprehensive review of airline EMKs to ensure that they include the medical supplies, liked pediatric inhalers, needed to meet the needs of children. Schumer said that this provision, if passed into law, has the potential to save lives and ensure children suffering from medical emergencies on planes will be able to receive the care they need.

A copy of Senator Schumer’s original letter to the FAA Federal Air Surgeon appears below:

Dear Dr. Fraser:

I write regarding the requirements for onboard emergency medical equipment, and I specifically urge you to reevaluate the requirements to ensure that the appropriate pediatric equipment, medication, and supplies are included in air carriers’ Emergency Medical Kits (EMK).

In order to treat passengers effectively, the appropriate medical supplies need to be on board. On a recent transatlantic flight, a two-year little boy old began suffering an asthma attack, but his parents had accidentally packed his asthma medication in their luggage. The plane only had an adult inhaler on board, which the child was unable to use. Fortunately, using a water bottle and an oxygen tank, a Buffalo doctor was able to construct a makeshift device from the adult inhaler that the child was able to use. This child’s life may have been saved due to the doctor’s ingenuity, but this story has also cast a light on the shortfalls of the current Emergency Medical Kit requirements. I urge the FAA to reevaluate the needs and current requirements to ensure that the appropriate equipment, medication, and supplies are required and available in the event that a child suffers a medical emergency in flight.

As you know, most passenger airlines are required to carry at least one Automated External Defibrillator (AED) and an Emergency Medical Kit containing a variety of approved medicines and medical supplies. According to a 2013 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, commercial airlines serve approximately 2.75 billion passengers worldwide annually, and there are an estimated 44,000 in-flight medical emergencies each year. While, fortunately, not all of these medical emergencies end up being serious, the required supplies, equipment, and medicines are absolutely critical to treating passengers experiencing sometimes life-threatening medical emergencies until the plane can land safely.

Thank you for your attention to this important issue. Should you have any additional questions, please do not hesitate to contact me or my staff.


Charles E. Schumer

United States Senator



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