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Published April 27, 2012, 05:54 PM

Woman who delayed flight thankful for quick diagnosis of red spots

RED WING, Minn. - When a person is getting ready to leave a foreign country and begins to notice small red spots spreading across her body, it’s hard to believe that what could possibly be a deadly disease would turn out to be a life saver.

By: Sarah Gorvin and Regan Carstensen, Forum Communications Co., INFORUM

RED WING, Minn. - When a person is getting ready to leave a foreign country and begins to notice small red spots spreading across her body, it’s hard to believe that what could possibly be a deadly disease would turn out to be a life saver.

Surprisingly, that was the case for Red Wing resident Lise Sievers after the events of Thursday, and it’s what she reflects on most.

“It saved my life to have spots,” Sievers said.

When word of her unidentified breakouts spread from Sievers’ concerned mother to some health officials and eventually to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the flight she was traveling on Thursday afternoon endured a nearly three-hour delay.

Sievers’ adult son Roger received the news directly from his mom while she was still aboard the airplane.

“She called me and goes, ‘You ought to turn on the TV,’” Roger Sievers remembered, responding with a confused “Why?” “She said, ‘Oh, there’s a quarantine on a Chicago airplane. And I caused it.”

Following thorough examinations from medical personnel researching Sievers’ rash — at one point thought to be bed bugs — it was determined her itchy red spots were simply a case of scabies, a skin infection that can be treated with creams or prescription medications.

Just one day earlier, however, that mysterious rash seemed quite a bit more threatening. Still, Sievers tried not to get too concerned.

She began noticing small spots while preparing to depart from Africa on Wednesday. For the past three months she had been visiting Kamuli, Uganda, where she was in the process of adopting two children.

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The Red Wing resident initially wrote the spots off as bug bites when they were only on her left arm. Then, as they spread to her right arm, Sievers, who was switching planes in Amsterdam, chalked it up to a possible allergic reaction.

But it wasn’t until she started seeing red all the way from her thighs to her feet that Sievers guessed she may have caught a serious disease.

At a layover in Detroit, Sievers had some time to kill and called her mom, mentioning the mysterious itchy spots. She was soon back in the air on a flight that would take her another leg of the way home — from Detroit to Chicago.

But the landing at Chicago’s Midway Airport was unlike the others. The plane was kept about 50 feet away from the gate as dozens of police officers, firefighters and medical personnel surrounded the area.

“I’m thinking the worst,” Sievers said. “I’m thinking, ‘Was there a bomb threat?’”

Passengers sat and waited — curiosity building — until the pilot announced that somebody on the plane could potentially have a contagious disease.

“And then I knew. I just knew it was me,” Sievers said. “I raised my hand up and I said, ‘I think they’re talking about me.’”

They certainly were.

Following nearly three hours of quarantine and a final diagnosis of scabies determined by taking photographs of the rash and conferring with experts, medical officials asked that Sievers go to a hospital promptly after getting off the plane so that she could be re-evaluated.

And it was during the re-evaluation at La Porte Hospital in Indiana that she knew the entire ordeal was for the best.

“It probably saved my life that these red dots were there because my blood levels were so far out of whack,” Sievers explained, noting that she has a blood clotting disorder. “I wouldn’t have gone to the doctor for spots unless somebody told me I had to.”

She guessed that an unfamiliar diet the past several months was a contributing factor as to why her blood disorder was not kept in check. The longer it would have continued, the more Sievers would have been at risk.

“If I were to fall down right now, I could hemorrhage to death,” she said.

With more appointments set up to get her disorder back under control, Sievers is becoming less concerned about the scabies.

“Before I even go home they’ll be gone. The treatment is a cream and it kills them instantly,” she said. Scabies is caused by mites, which are transferred by skin-to-skin contact. Sievers added that she’s likely to give her hotel in Uganda a call and inform them of the circumstances.

“You’re staying at a hotel in Uganda. I mean, who would’ve known that the sheets would be unclean?” Sievers’ son joked.

Despite all of the commotion surrounding the trip, Sievers said she isn’t nervous about returning to Africa in May. On May 26, she will pick up 10-year-old Sara and 4-year-old Francis, who will join their eight brothers and sisters who live at home.

Every one of Sievers’ now dozen adopted children has a special need of some sort, ranging from cases of fetal alcohol syndrome to cerebral palsy to HIV.

“My dad came to her a while back when they were still married and said he felt a calling to adopt the kids that nobody else was going to,” Roger Sievers explained.

Although Lise Sievers previously only adopted from within the United States, she said she’s very excited to bring Sara and Francis from Uganda all the way to Red Wing.

“I know they’ll feel like it’s home.”