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Omar Villafranca, NBC 5 News
A North Texas woman says airport security agents strip-searched her and then swabbed her medically implanted tube for explosives.
A North Texas man says he is outraged that airport security agents at Dallas Love Field strip-searched his wife and handled her feeding tube.
Melinda Deaton has a four-inch medical tube sticking out of her stomach. The medically implanted tube is needed for treatment after complications with a gastric bypass surgery.
Deaton frequently flies from Dallas to Minneapolis for treatment at the Mayo Clinic. She said Transportation Security Administration agents strip-searched her and touched her feeding tube Wednesday morning when she was on her way to three days of treatment.
Her husband, John Deaton, said the incident was unusual.
"They will see it on their screens, ask her what it is, she'd identify it, they may pat it on the outside of her clothing, accept it and go on," he said.
But that didn't happen Wednesday morning.
Even though she was wearing a medical bracelet with a USB drive on it that contained notes from her doctor, TSA agents still searched her.
"They had physically stripped her and saw the tube coming out of her stomach, and they decided that they needed to check it for explosives, so they had to physically handle the tube," John Deaton said.
Besides handling the tube, agents swabbed it for bomb-making material, Melinda Deaton said. Her husband said it put his wife at risk of infection.
"Any time you put a harsh substance on it, you run the risk of contamination," he said. "They put stuff on there that we don't know what it is and identify. She has a weak immune system as part of her medical condition, and it can be very fatal to her."
TSA spokesman Luis Casanova would not comment on what chemicals were on the swabs but did say that touching the device is not supposed to happen.
Melinda Deaton was given back some of her food for the trip. TSA agents allowed her to go through security and board her plane after her strip search.
The Deatons have filed a formal complaint with the TSA and with the city of Dallas, which runs Love Field.
The TSA said it is investigating the allegations but said it could not specifically comment on the Deatons' case.
“As I mentioned before, we respect the right to privacy of the passenger in question and will reach out directly to her," Casanova said. "Once we have further information, I will provide a statement as necessary."
The TSA issued a statement Thursday that said:
"TSA's mission is to safely, efficiently and respectfully screen nearly 2 million passengers each day at airports nationwide. We are sensitive to the concerns of passengers and we invite those individuals to provide feedback to TSA through a variety of channels. In this specific incident, an investigation was initiated and it was determined that the Transportation Security Officer (TSO) followed standard operating procedures conducted in the presence of a Supervisor TSO. We take the professionalism of our workforce and the integrity of our security procedures very seriously and will address any alleged issues directly with the passenger."
Additionally, the TSA said they work regularly "with a broad coalition of disability and medical condition advocacy groups to help understand their needs and adapt screening porcedures accordingly."
John Deaton said he just wants TSA agents to be a little more sensitive to passengers with medical issues.
"It outrages me to think that they can get away with that because they have a single female with a medical condition that is not going to stand up to authority figures and TSA, and say, 'Guys, this is really across the line,'" he said.