Minutes into her flight to Cleveland for a visit to the renowned Cleveland Clinic, where she hoped to find answers about her struggle with a rare autoimmune disease, Ashley Spencer collapsed outside an airplane bathroom.
Spencer, from the Philadelphia area, reportedly suffers from Churg-Strauss syndrome, also known as eosinophilic granulomatosis with polyangiitis, a disorder that causes inflammation in the blood vessels, slowing down blood flow to vital organs, according to the Mayo Clinic. On Saturday, the 28-year-old headed to Philadelphia International Airport, ready to go to Cleveland for tests and a second opinion.
She munched on some chips. Then she boarded the plane.
Spencer could not immediately be reached for comment Monday, but a spokeswoman for the Cleveland Clinic said Spencer’s condition makes her more sensitive to allergies and that Spencer suspects the chips she ate may have been fried in peanut oil.
Although it’s not certain whether her collapse was related to her condition, Spencer went into anaphylactic shock, a life-threatening allergic reaction.
“I stopped breathing,” she told ABC affiliate WEWS. “I still had a pulse. That’s when the stewardess said, ‘Is there any medical professionals on the aircraft? It’s an emergency.'”
Erich Kiehl, an electrophysiology fellow from the Cleveland Clinic, was also on board American Eagle flight 5471. He and another physician from Duke University administered an EpiPen and albuterol, then monitored Spencer’s vitals until she started to stabilize, Cleveland Clinic spokeswoman Andrea Pacetti told The Washington Post.
The plane was quickly diverted to Pittsburgh, where Spencer was met by emergency personnel and rushed to a hospital for treatment.
“I am beyond thankful,” she told WEWS. “I could have died up there.”
Spencer made it to her appointment Monday at the Cleveland Clinic and said that she hoped to be able to thank Kiehl while she was there.
The doctor could not immediately be reached for comment Monday, but the clinic spokeswoman explained that he has said he does not want to make a huge deal out of it, that he was simply doing his job.
American Airlines said in a statement that it wished Spencer all the best.
“We appreciate the assistance of the two doctors, including Dr. Kiehl, who assisted our crew members in caring for Ms. Spencer,” the airline said in a statement. “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.”