TSA, leukemia patient tell conflicting accounts of pat-down

TSA, leukemia patient tell conflicting accounts of pat-down »Play Video
Michelle Dunaj is reflected in a mirror as she poses for a photo, Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012 in Bonney Lake, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
SEATTLE -- The Transportation Security Administration says its agents followed protocol when they patted down a leukemia patient in what the passenger described as a humiliating experience, but the woman says the TSA's version of events is not accurate.

The incident in question involves Michelle Dunaj, a leukemia patient. The woman said screeners at Sea-Tac Airport made her pull up her shirt to check under bandages from recent surgeries, and refused to give her a private search when she requested one.

A machine couldn't get a reading on her saline bags, she said, so a TSA agent forced one open, contaminating the fluid she needs to survive.

Dunaj said agents also made her lift up her shirt and pull back the bandages holding feeding tubes in place. She needs those tubes because of organ failure.

But the agency says that's not what happened.

"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 TSA said in a statement. "After reviewing video from the security checkpoint, we have determined that our screening procedures were followed.

"That isn't true," said Dunaj in response to TSA's statement. "They absolutely did open up one of my saline bags. I was asked to lift up my shirt and pull back the dressing."

With other passengers staring, Dunaj said her request for privacy was denied.

"They just said that it was fine; the location we were at was fine," she said, "and I didn't feel that it was fine, because everybody was looking at me."

The TSA has not released video of Dunaj's screening.

Under TSA's policy, passengers can request a private screening with a witness present. TSA said its footage does not contain audio and therefore is inconclusive on whether Dunaj did, in fact, request a private screening.

Dunaj said she is not looking for an apology. Instead, she wants procedures to change so no other passenger with special needs will have to undergo a similar experience.

"They shouldn't treat people that way, especially when somebody wants to make what I call an end-of-life trip to cross something off their bucket list or see family and friends," she said.