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Diabetics, organ-recovery groups face air security hurdle

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 19, 2001


The new business and security realities at U.S. airports have made life more complicated for diabetics and will create challenges for organ-recovery groups, which often rely on planes to ferry human organs to distant hospitals.

The American Diabetes Association confirmed Monday that some Type 1 diabetics, many of whom rely on injectable insulin to survive, have reported difficulties carrying their medications through airport security checks.

As part of stepped-up security at the nation's airports, the Federal Aviation Administration has banned "cutting instruments" aboard flights. Hypodermic syringes, or needles, can be lumped together with knives, sewing kits, nail files, scissors and other sharp objects.

Diabetes advocacy and education groups nationally and locally are still struggling to understand the regulations. Requests for clarification from the FAA, both the regional offices in Seattle and the national headquarters in Washington, D.C., were not immediately answered.

Southwest Airlines spokeswoman Linda Rutherford said passengers on her airline are being allowed on with insulin injection and blood-testing kits if they have prescription forms and the bracelets or necklaces diabetics use to identify their condition.

Groups serving people with diabetes said they have had trouble getting clear instructions from the FAA.

"We're still receiving conflicting information," said Pat Klepzig, area executive director for the Nevada chapter of the American Diabetics Association.

"We have received a couple of calls about this from around the country," said Mark Overbay, a staffer with association headquarters in Washington. "As an organization, we are concerned about this."

For a Type 1, so-called juvenile onset diabetic, traveling without insulin delivery systems and a method to test the blood -- which often requires a sharp pinlike object called a lancet -- can be dangerous.

"It's life and death," Klepzig said.

As for organ recovery groups, reduced flight schedules could force the use of costlier charter flights, rather than commercial airlines, and beefed-up security raises the possibility that organs meant to be shipped to another city instead might be used closer to where they are donated.

There aren't precise numbers about how many organs end up being shipped on airplanes each year. The United Network for Organ Sharing says that in 1999 there were more than 6,000 instances of organs being sent outside a local donation area. Many of those organs would have been shipped by plane.

The Center for Organ Recovery and Education, which coordinates transplants in Western Pennsylvania, West Virginia and part of New York state, has imported 185 organs for transplant this year and almost all have arrived by plane.

Brian Broznick, the executive director at the center, said he doubts increased security will result in problems like those experienced last week, in which some organs were given to local patients rather than sicker patients elsewhere. And the increased security won't lead to the worst problems seen last week, in which some organs were not taken from donors because they couldn't be flown to recipients.

But Pam Silvestri, spokeswoman for the Southwest Transplant Alliance, said she could imagine cases in which organs might be diverted.

Ann Paschke, spokeswoman for the United Network for Organ Sharing, which coordinates transplants nationally, agreed that new regulations might prevent organs from making a few last-minute flights because all organ packages must now pass through X-ray machines. But, in general, the network doesn't anticipate problems. The organ network found that commercial airlines were accepting organ packages with very few delays Monday.

- Information from the Las Vegas Sun and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette was used in this report.

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