October 10, 2012 in City

Cancer patient upset by security pat-down

TSA says situation handled properly
Doug Esser Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Michelle Dunaj, of Roseville, Mich., poses for a photo Tuesday at the home of friends in Bonney Lake, Wash.
(Full-size photo)

SEATTLE – A Michigan woman dying of leukemia says she hopes her embarrassment during a Seattle airport security pat-down might change the way the Transportation Security Administration treats travelers with medical conditions.

A TSA spokeswoman said late Tuesday, however, that the agency had reviewed video from the security checkpoint where Michelle Dunaj was screened for weapons and determined that the agency’s procedures were followed.

Dunaj, 34, was making what she expects will be the last trip of her life on Oct. 2 as she traveled through Seattle en route to Hawaii.

The Roseville, Mich., woman thought she had prepared by calling the airline ahead of time, asking for a wheelchair, carrying documentation for her feeding tubes and making sure she had prescriptions for all her medications, including five bags of saline solution. But Dunaj said she received a full pat-down in the security line at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and had to lift her shirt and pull back bandages so agents could get a good look. She said everyone else in line got a look, too.

“My issue is: It was in front of everyone, and everyone was looking at me like I was a criminal or like I was doing something wrong,” Dunaj told the Associated Press on Tuesday. “It shouldn’t have been in front of everyone.”

Dunaj said a female agent performed the pat-down and asked her to lift up her shirt after feeling the tubes going into Dunaj’s chest and abdomen. Dunaj said her suggestion for a more private pat-down was dismissed.

“I asked them if they thought that was an appropriate location, and they told me that everything was fine,” she said.

She said another agent punctured one of the saline bags she was carrying, ruining it. “I didn’t want to start getting upset and swearing and causing more of a scene or issue,” Dunaj said. “But it definitely wasn’t handled properly.”

The TSA said in a statement, “At no point did a TSA officer open the passenger’s medically necessary liquids and the passenger was never asked to remove or pull off any bandages.”

The agency also said that “at any point, any passenger can request private screening with a witness present.”

Asked to comment on Dunaj’s statement that she had asked for a more private pat-down, TSA Northwest Region spokeswoman Lorie Dankers said, “I cannot address that” and added that the “statement stands on its own.”

“We have determined that our screening procedures were followed,” she said late Tuesday.

Dunaj said that after her pat-down, she was asked to move along, as if she were responsible for holding up the line.

“I thought that was a little rude,” she said.

The TSA statement said “the passenger has not contacted TSA about her screening experience.”

“We work to make our screening procedures as minimally invasive as possible while providing the level of security that the American people want and deserve,” Dankers said in the statement.

Travelers with disabilities can call a TSA hotline with questions about screening procedures.

Dunaj did not immediately return a call Tuesday evening seeking comment on the TSA’s response.

She initially told her story on KOMO-TV.

She had no problems flying out of Detroit or returning to Seattle from Hawaii. She has been staying with a friend at suburban Bonney Lake in Western Washington and planned to return to Michigan on Wednesday. She wasn’t looking forward to departing from Sea-Tac, although the TSA contacted her through KOMO and offered to have a manager help her through security.

Her friend Mary Rowe said Tuesday evening the experience has “been exhausting for her.”

“On the last trip of her life, she’s been totally bombarded with everything,” Rowe said.

Dunaj decided to make the trip after she was told she had three to four months to live. She doesn’t regret it, despite the hassles.

“Hawaii was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen,” she said. “No. 1 on my bucket list.”

She’ll enter hospice back home Oct. 17.

© Copyright 2012 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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