Teen has medical emergency on flight to Halifax. It turned out to be diabetes

A Florida mother wants everyone to know the signs of Type 1 diabetes after her daughter unknowingly had the disease and almost died on a flight from Chicago to Halifax nearly two weeks ago.

P.K. Hrezo said her 13-year-old daughter, Abby, had been fighting a virus a few days before the Oct. 18 trip, but that she had been given the all-clear to fly by her doctor.

"Before we boarded, we had thought she was just tired," Hrezo said in a phone interview from Tampa, Fla.

Hrezo said Abby's health took a turn for the worst about an hour into the flight. After using the washroom, Abby was stumbling back to her seat. When she reached for her beverage, she dropped it and wasn't able to hold anything.

"And she's squinting her eyes and she lays on me and says, 'I think I need a doctor,'" Hrezo said. 

Submitted by P.K. Hrezo

Abby told her mother her lungs and back hurt. She then started breathing rapidly, Hrezo said.

Abby's arm was ice cold and Hrezo knew the situation was becoming an emergency, so Hrezo informed the flight attendants, who sprung into action, turned on the lights and made an announcement.

"It was completely terrifying. I was in tears. I felt like the worst mom ever in history for putting my daughter on a plane and not realizing how sick she was," Hrezo said.

"I had no idea that she was that ill and it happened so slowly, but yet so fast in that last 24 hours."

Several different medical professionals on the flight monitored Abby, including a nurse from Colorado and a doctor and his wife who are originally from Nova Scotia, but now live in Iowa.

Submitted by P.K. Hrezo

An ambulance was ready at the airport and took Abby to the IWK Health Centre in Halifax.

"The doctor looked at me and said, 'Is there diabetes in the family?' And I said, 'No.' And he said, 'This is diabetes right here, I can smell the ketones on her breath,'" Hrezo said.

She said she was blindsided by the news.

Hrezo praised the ER team for the "exceptional care" they provided and said Abby is feeling much better now and is taking insulin four times a day.

Type 1 diabetes facts

According to Diabetes Canada, Type 1 diabetes is a disease in which the pancreas doesn't produce insulin. Insulin helps the body control the level of sugar in blood. Type 1 diabetes is treated with insulin injections.

The cause of Type 1 diabetes is unknown, but researchers believe it occurs when the body's immune system destroys the cells that make insulin.

Hrezo would later find out that during the flight, her daughter had been experiencing diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). Some of the signs of DKA include feeling sluggish, a fruit-scented breath, drinking a lot of fluids and using the bathroom frequently.

Common signs

Diabetes Canada told CBC News in an email that most people with Type 1 diabetes are diagnosed in childhood and early adulthood, but it can appear at any age.

Some of the most common signs of Type 1 diabetes include:

  • Unusual thirst.
  • Frequent urination.
  • Weight change (gain or loss).
  • Extreme fatigue or lack of energy.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Frequent or recurring infections.
  • Cuts and bruises that are slow to heal.
  • Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet.
  • Trouble getting or maintaining an erection.

MORE TOP STORIES