Man says airport screener mishandled urostomy bag — again

(Matt Helms)   A man with bladder cancer whose humiliating security pat down at Detroit Metro Airport ended with urine from his urostomy bag spilled on him said Friday that he was mishandled again by a screener last week.

Thomas Sawyer of Houghton Lake made national news in November when a security agent’s aggressive pat down caused the lid of his urostomy bag to loosen, spilling urine on his shirt and pants. Transportation Security Administration head John Pistole personally called Sawyer to apologize and pledge an investigation into how screeners handle passengers with sensitive medical conditions.

“I thought that I had really made a difference for people flying with urostomies, I really did,” the 62-year-old told the Free Press on Friday. “I’m angry this time. They can’t be training them properly.”

Sawyer said he went through security July 14 at the McNamara Terminal for a flight to Orlando — the same destination he was flying to in November — and a screener disregarded his warning that he had a urostomy bag beneath his untucked shirt.

“He said, ‘Yeah, I know,’ and he patted me down — he was rough and he squeezed the bag a couple of times,” Sawyer said. “The young kid was anything but gentle, and he didn’t ask me if I wanted to be screened privately.”

The option of a private screening — with the help of a relative, assistant or companion — wasn’t offered, Sawyer said. TSA guidelines on passengers with disabilities or medical conditions say private screenings should be offered.

According to the TSA, screeners also have undergone training beginning this year to allow passengers with urostomy bags, in most circumstances, to perform a self pat down of the appliance, followed by explosives detection screening.

Sawyer said the incident was particularly troubling because of the attention the first case brought to the issue. The TSA flew Sawyer to Washington in March to speak to federal officials, doctors and representatives of disability advocacy groups about screenings.

TSA spokesman Jim Fotenos said the agency “takes every passenger’s claim seriously. We are reviewing the circumstances surrounding this passenger’s screening to determine if the proper procedures were followed.”

Sawyer was diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2007, and treatment left him with a urostomy bag that catches diverted urine. The National Cancer Institute says about 70,000 Americans are diagnosed with bladder cancer each year.

Larry Rzepka, executive director of the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network in Bethesda, Md., said the group was aware of the latest incident but hadn’t spoken Friday with Sawyer or the TSA. His group has been among those advising the TSA.

“We are surprised the situation may have happened, but we don’t know enough about it” to comment on specifics, Rzepka said.

Rzepka said the advocacy network hopes the TSA will make quick improvements in screening of people with illnesses and disabilities.

“At the same time, we understand the tough job the TSA has,” he said.|newswell|text|FRONTPAGE|p

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