Healthy Living

Teen Told Her Insulin Pump Would "Crash the Plane"

This teen was told her insulin pump would "crash the plane" and that she had to remove it. It left her family stunned.

Teen Told Her Insulin Pump Would "Crash the Plane"

Photo: Polly Holland and her parents/The Star

Manchester Airport, Manchester, England.

A young 13-year old girl and her family were boarding a plane on their way from England to Naples in July. The young teen, Polly, was commanded to take her insulin pump from her carry-on luggage and store it in a provided bag while at airport security.

Polly Holland refused because she needed  to have her pump on her at all times. If she removed her pump, she would risk contamination, damage to the pump, and a loss of medication for her body. An airport security worker told Polly the pump “could crash the plane,” and it would be “her fault.”

Polly Holland is a type 1 diabetic, and her pump and insulin medication is her lifeline.

To ensure that everything would be okay with security, the Holland family provided documentation from the Sheffield’s Children’s Hospital that stated Polly is required to have the pump with her. They handed this documentation to the security agent.

The entire ordeal was very upsetting for Polly and her family. As a parent, children are always your priority, but with Polly, it is even more so because I am carrying medicine that will keep her alive,” her mother said. “I just held her hand and said everything was going to be okay. She was close to tears."

Director of customer services and security issued an apology to Yahoo

Fiona Wright, director of customer services and security for Manchester Airport, said in a statement to Yahoo and addressed to the Hollands:

"We’d like to apologise to the Hollands for their experience when traveling through the airport recently. The correct procedure for medicines and medical equipment is that they require scanning unless there is a written exemption from a doctor or hospital. This is why the Hollands were asked to present their daughter’s diabetes medication for screening. Unfortunately, on this occasion, some of the medication was not screened correctly, so it was necessary to bring it back for additional screening. The safety and security of all our passengers is our number priority. However, we acknowledge the situation could have been handled better and this has now been raised with the staff member in question."

Fiona Wright’s statement doesn’t solve the problem, and the Hollands are still upset. When they travel via plane on their next vacation, they will use another airport to avoid any future complications.

Type 1 diabetes can be fatal if left untreated

When your immune system destroys the beta cells, or the cells that make insulin in your pancreas, type 1 diabetes is usually the result. You need insulin to move sugar into your body’s tissues. Cells use glucose or sugar for fuel to energize your body. When beta cells are damaged, the entire process of using insulin as a transport medium is stopped. Glucose can’t move into your cells because there is no insulin in your body to move the glucose. Glucose builds up in your blood, and your cells starve. Eventually, the glucose builds up in your bloodstream and causes you to have high blood sugar.

When you have extra sugar in your bloodstream, your body gets rid of the excess sugar by through urination. A large amount of water is expelled with urine and causes your body to dry out.

Diabetic ketoacidosis or DKA is a definite result of high blood sugar. There is not enough glucose in your body to use for fuel, and your body breaks down fat cells.  Chemicals called ketones are created, and your liver releases the glucose it stores to help you out. Your body can’t use sugar without insulin, so glucose and acidic ketones build up in your blood. The combination of extra glucose, acid buildup and dehydration are known as ketoacidosis. This condition can be life-threatening if patients do not have immediate medical attention.

High glucose levels in your bloodstream might damage your nerves, the small blood vessels in your eyes, your kidneys, and your heart. High glucose levels put you at risk for atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries that lead to strokes and heart attacks.

Type 1 diabetes is typically diagnosed in childhood

Approximately 5 percent of people with diabetes have type 1. The disease is common among those of Caucasian descent and affects both men and women equally. The disease generally starts in those who are under 20 years old, but it can happen at any age. Polly Holland was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was only 6 years old.

Type 1 diabetes can result from your genes, but it is also a related to en environment or a virus that causes your immune system to attack your pancreas. Type 1 is an autoimmune disease, and it’s life-threatening.

Symptoms of type 1 diabetes can be understated, but they include increased thirst, increased hunger after eating, dry mouth, vomiting and nausea, pain in the stomach, frequent urination, weight loss, fatigue, blurred vision, recurrent infections, and labored breathing.

Take heart, you can live a long and active life if you keep your blood sugar levels within the range your doctor prescribes, watch your diet, and stay active. You will need insulin injections or an insulin pump to control your blood sugar.

An insulin pump helps manage blood sugar levels

Polly’s insulin pump is a small, computerized device that helps her manage her blood sugar. The pump can be worn on a belt or put in a pocket. An insulin pump releases a stream of insulin into your body through a catheter, which is taped in place on your abdomen and goes under your skin.

An insulin pump works according to a programmed plan that is tailored to each patient. The amount of insulin can be changed according to your needs.

Between meals and overnight, the pump delivers a little insulin. To maintain your blood sugar, a low amount of insulin is required. After you eat, you can also program your pump to give you an extra does of insulin, which is called a bolus dose. This is calculated from the amount of carbohydrates that you need.

Patients need to check their blood sugar at least four times a day while they wear an insulin pump. You set your doses and adjust them according to what you eat and your exercise routine. 

Doctors prefer insulin pumps because it works almost like the pancreas does. Unlike an injection, the pump releases insulin gradually.

More research is being done to verify that an insulin pump is better than an insulin injection. In Polly’s case, her insulin pump is the easiest way for her to manage her blood sugar.

An interesting question to ask, although the pump is computerized, is it strong enough to bring down an airplane? Probably not, and most experts seem to agree.