by Brian Loew
Travelers with medical conditions hope that the TSA pat-down incidents involving bladder cancer survivor Thomas “Tom” Sawyer, at Detroit Metro Airport, and to breast cancer survivor Cathy Bossi, at Dulles Airport, are isolated incidents. But these reports are already creating a chilling effect on air travel for people with medical conditions and disabilities.
This group of travelers could benefit the most from holiday travel. People who have a lifelong medical challenge, or who have undergone a life-saving operation, all want to feel normal, to be able to travel as freely as possible.
One of these people is bladder cancer survivor Guenter M. Roesch, 71, of St. Marys, GA. Mr. Roesch and his wife of 48 years, Avie Roesch, were planning a trip to Las Vegas. But no longer.
Reading about the highly publicized TSA security screening procedures of travelers with medical conditions prompted Mr. and Mrs. Roesch to cancel their Vegas trip. Instead, they’ll drive six hours to vacation at Callaway Gardens, GA.
“We just didn’t want to risk being treated like ‘omegaman’ was treated!” Mrs. Roesch told us via email, referring to Mr. Sawyer by his screen name on the Bladder Cancer Awareness Network Support Community, an online support group sponsored by the Bladder Cancer Awareness Network (BCAN). “We realize that security is a difficult job, but they have to be aware of certain health issues and treat these people with the dignity they deserve.”
My company, Inspire, created and manages the bladder cancer and about 100 other online support communities. We are seeing across many of the communities the fears that Mrs. Roesch expresses.
A fellow member of the bladder cancer support group, Barbara Lamanna, a 60-year-old cancer survivor from Kernersville, NC, wrote, “I’ll be flying in January, and am not looking forward to explaining catheters, irrigation water, syringes, etc., that are in my luggage.”
And a third, Carole Davis, a 69-year-old cancer survivor from North Carolina, who is living with a urostomy and colostomy, said she doesn’t plan to fly until she is convinced the TSA pat-down policies are changed to ensure more dignity and for travelers with medical conditions. Her travel strategy? “I’m driving. . .I truly do not feel that I can subject myself to the prospect of such a humiliating and embarrassing procedure. I have relatives in Canada that I would like to visit, especially my brother, who is getting married next spring. Driving that distance would be daunting, but flying is out of the question in the current environment.”
It’s obvious that for those travelers with medical challenges, avoiding the unwelcome arms of TSA is the best prescription to avoid the “omegaman treatment.” As of a result of TSA actions, the world has gotten a little more closed in on a group of Americans who yearn to live life as normally as possible. They deserve better.
Arlene Koker, 66, of Gregory, MI, another online support group friend of Mr. Sawyer, wrote, “Respect is due anyone, let alone those of us who have to endure so much before we get healthy again.”
We can hope that TSA considers the dignity of these travelers. John Pistole’s apology to Mr. Sawyer is a start—but just a start. What should really help is compelling the TSA to really train their agents about ostomies, and training its agents to listen when a traveler tells them of a serious health issue. But Mr. and Mrs. Roesch aren’t risking it, and nor is Mrs. Davis, and the TSA needs to know about it.
Brian Loew is CEO of Inspire, a company that creates and manages online patient support communities, including the support group for the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network (BCAN), a nonprofit organization.
Submit a guest post and be heard.