Teen Blames TSA For Broken Insulin Pump

Diabetic Teen: $10,000 Pump Ruined By TSA's Full Body Scan

Sixteen-year-old Savannah Barry said her $10,000 insulin pump was broken because she was coerced into going through a full-body scan at the airport.

The incident occurred during a security screening at the Salt Lake City airport, when she was returning to Denver from a school trip.

"It’s unacceptable and I don’t want other people to feel the way that I felt. I was humiliated, absolutely humiliated," said Savannah.

Savannah said she approached a TSA agent with a letter from her physician in hand. That letter explained her special medical needs while traveling by air. She said she pointed out her insulin pump and the TSA agent directed her to the full body scan.

"I was like, 'Are you sure that I can go through with this insulin pump? It’s not going to hurt the pump at all?' And she was like, ‘No, no, you’re fine.’ So I went through with my pump. Some part of me knew that it wasn’t OK, but when someone in a position of authority is telling you it is, you think that it’s right,” said Barry.

The teen was ushered through the scan, but said she still had to go through a full body pat-down because of fruit juice she had to control blood-sugar levels.

"At that point I was really frustrated because what I really wanted was the pat-down in the first place," said Barry.

"When they saw her juice, they panicked and they didn’t know what to do. A diabetic is going to need a source of sugar, preferably liquid. I can assure you she’s not going to blow up a 737 with an insulin pump and three Capri Sun Juice(s)," said Savannah's mother, Sandra Barry.

As soon as she finished with her security screening, Savannah said she felt something was wrong.

She called her mother, who called the maker of the insulin pump, Animas.

"They said she’s got to take that pump off as soon as she lands. And my heart just sank, because I know how expensive they are. I knew how upset she would be, and I knew that I had to be the one, when I got to DIA, to tell her," said Sandra.

"They can’t guarantee that the software isn’t damaged by the TSA’s technology that they use, so her blood sugar could run high or her blood sugar could run low. So thankfully, it’s just about a 1 hour flight, a little bit over an hour. So I knew if something was going to be wrong or not working we had a short amount of time that she was in the air," said Sandra.

The diabetic teen said she had to transition to insulin shots the moment her plane landed in Denver.

"Coming off an insulin pump is rough. You never know what is going to happen," Savannah said.

Animas said "its insulin pump cannot go through x-ray as it can damage the software and affect the insulin delivery. The newest technology in airport security, Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT), commonly referred to as full body scanner technology ... is also a form of x-ray. The insulin pump should not be exposed to this form of scanning."

The company said that it recommends that the insulin pump be inspected either by hand or with a hand wand.

TSA Works With Diabetic Associations, But Training May Not Happen In Field

7NEWS first started asking questions in 2011 when a diabetic traveler claimed TSA confiscated her insulin vials. We found TSA policy clearly states that passengers have a right to fly with their insulin and a right to opt for a pat-down.

TSA issued this statement to 7NEWS: "TSA works regularly with a broad coalition of advocacy groups representing passengers with disabilities and medical conditions to better understand their needs. Signage posted at security checkpoints informs passengers that advanced imaging technology screening is optional for all passengers, including those traveling with medical devices."

Katharine Gordon is a staff attorney for the American Diabetes Association. She said issues with TSA screening have been going on for years.

Gordon said representatives from the American Diabetes Association meet in person with TSA once a year and also have a quarterly conference call about issues. But she said there is a breakdown between TSA training and what happens in the field.

"These aren't isolated incidences. They are occurring across the country, and we think that a way of ending that is to have better training by TSA," said Gordon.

"TSA especially needs to be educated because my life is pretty much in their hands when I walk through a body scan with my insulin pump on," said Savannah.

After 7NEWS started asking questions a representative from TSA reached out to her. They have not connected, but now Savannah has a new pump that was donated by the maker, Animas.

But Savannah said she is not satisfied.

"We want education. We want these TSA agents to be educated about diabetics and about insulin pumps. That’s what’s most important, is that there’s something universal, across the board that these TSA agents all have to follow. That’s really what I want from this," she said.

Additional Information:

  • Air Travel and Diabetes: www.diabetes.org
  • Optional TSA Special Needs Travel Card: Go to www.tsa.gov to get a printable card to notify TSA personnel of diabetes at security checkpoint.
  • TSA program for travelers with disabilities and medical conditions: Learn more at www.tsa.gov
  • American Diabetes Association Hotline for Questions About Diabetes Discrimination Issues: 1-800-DIABETES

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