A Red Wing woman with a bad rash and a mother who wanted only to help kept 43 passengers locked in a Delta Air Lines plane for several hours Thursday at Midway Airport in Chicago.
Lise Sievers, 50, was returning home to Minnesota after four months in Uganda, where she is adopting two special-needs children. While talking to her mom, who lives in Indiana, Sievers mentioned that the little boy she planned to adopt had been to the doctor because he had some pus-filled bumps on him, said Sievers' son, Roger, of Red Wing. And then Lise Sievers mentioned that she must have been bitten by bedbugs in the hotel where she was staying.
"Somewhere along the way things got confused," Roger Sievers said.
By the time Lise Sievers' flight landed in Chicago after stops in Amsterdam and Detroit, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had been notified that a passenger might have monkeypox.
Sievers' mom, who lives near South Bend, Ind., had called a hospital to ask what treatment her daughter might need for the sores she got in Africa.
"You call a hospital and you say that someone is coming in on an international flight and they have [pus-filled] bumps, then the CDC gets called right away," Roger Sievers said.
As the plane landed at Midway, the pilot announced that the passengers would have to remain on the plane. "The emergency response team surrounded the plane," Roger Sievers said. Health officials wearing facemasks boarded and to Sievers' surprise, they surrounded her. "They took photos, and sent them to Washington," Roger Sievers said.
About two hours later, the findings were in: Bedbugs. Sievers and the other 42 passengers finally got the go-ahead to leave the plane.
"It was all misinformation from a speculative call that my grandmother made," Roger Sievers. "She's just a concerned old lady. As sweet as can be. And she makes a mean banana bread, I can tell you that right now."
"But I know how stories can get turned. Of course it's a big story, 'A possible contagion at an international airport,'" Roger Sievers said.
Despite all the publicity over what was a misunderstanding, Roger Sievers hopes a little good may come out of the national publicity.
"I hope people see there's an international adoption taking place. There are kids coming back from a country to get much needed medical assistance. That's my take on it," he said.
Lise Sievers has adopted 10 special-needs children from around the United States. "They are the kids at the bottom of the waiting list. Kids with cerebral palsy, HIV and fetal alcohol syndrome."
The two Uganda children are Sievers' first international adoption. She was returning to Minnesota to do some fundraising to help pay for travel expenses for the two children, her son said. She expects to head back to Uganda at the end of May.
Is Lise Sievers a saint? "I get asked that a lot," her son said. "And I have to say, yes."
Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788