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Minutes from death

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Sept. 24 is likely a day Lt. Col. Monique Yates will not soon forget. She said she knew something was off, but she didn't know how serious it would become.

Colonel Yates said she knew she was having an allergic reaction, but didn't know she was about to go into anaphylactic shock, and that if five minutes had passed without her receiving medical attention, she could have died. Colonel Yates credits the 72nd Aerospace Medical Squadron and an anonymous Good Samaritan, one she wishes she could thank in person, with saving her life.

"You don't realize how quickly you can become incapacitated," said Colonel Yates, deputy director of the Air Force Flight Standards Agency's Instrument Procedures Center. "I am so thankful for the flight medicine staff and the man who helped me; they were awesome."

That Thursday, her routine began as usual. Colonel Yates woke up at 5:30 a.m. and helped get her children prepared for their day. She and her husband, a commercial airline pilot, have four daughters between the ages of 11 months and 9 years old.

Colonel Yates said she drove to work at the Federal Aviation Administration's Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center. At 7 a.m., on her way to work, she booked an 11 a.m. appointment with the 72nd AMDS.

"I knew I was allergic to something, I knew something was going on," the colonel said. "My face was swelling. My eyes were so swollen, I was tearing up."

When she reached her office, Colonel Yates said one of her civilian employees suggested she leave immediately for the doctor's office in hopes the doctor had an open slot before 11 a.m., or in case something worse happened.

Just after 8 a.m., the colonel said she began her trek from south MacArthur Boulevard in Oklahoma City to Tinker. She felt her condition worsen as she drove, but remained optimistic and alert. On Interstate 240 Eastbound, she thought about emergency procedures.

She said she tried to dial 911, but found she couldn't push the buttons because she was losing flexibility in her fingers. Additionally, her throat started to constrict, her tongue started to swell, and her legs went numb.

"I was an instructor pilot and I thought about 'if I had an emergency in the aircraft what would I do,'" Colonel Yates said. "We always say three things - maintain aircraft control, analyze the situation and take appropriate action."

The colonel said she maintained "minivan control." Unfamiliar with the surrounding area and the location of a nearby hospital, she made a conscious decision to get to Tinker as soon as possible. As she drove, she took a Benadryl to reduce the symptoms of the allergic reaction, which she had stashed in a front pocket of her flight suit.

Colonel Yates said when reached Gott Gate at S. Air Depot Boulevard the gate guard waved her through, oblivious to her attempts to get him to notice her.

"I did a quick scan and I didn't see a police car anywhere and I figured it would be better if I just continued," Colonel Yates said, "because by the time I get him to come back and we move my vehicle and I jump into another car, it was going to be too late."

Colonel Yates said she made it to the Arnold Avenue-Air Depot Boulevard traffic light when she realized she was in serious trouble.

"I actually prayed, 'God help me make it to the clinic,'" the colonel said.

Colonel Yates said when she pulled into a parking spot at Bldg. 5801 and opened the door, her legs were numb, her feet had swollen and her hands were involuntarily fisted and cradled against her chest. She yelled to an Airman dressed in an Airman Battle Uniform walking with a woman and toddler child. She asked him for help.

"He basically had me over his shoulder and he walked me in the clinic," she said. "I don't know who he is, but I would love to say 'thank you' to him."

She arrived at the clinic between 8:30 and 9 a.m. Dr. (Capt.) Daniel Pascucci said he was pulled out of an examination room when she came in.

"She was in anaphylactic shock," said Dr. Pascucci, 72nd AMDS flight surgeon, who spoke to the Tinker Take Off after he received approval from Colonel Yates. "She was in very serious condition. She was at the point where she'd probably stop breathing in the next five minutes."

The aerospace medical squadron stabilized Colonel Yates, providing treatment to open her airway and calm her over-reacting immune system. An ambulance then transported the colonel to Midwest Regional Medical Center in Midwest City.

"The situation with her health came as a shock to the entire instrument procedures center family," said Bill McWhirter, director of the AFFSA Instrument Procedures Center. "None of us, to include 'Q', as we call her, had any idea of the serious nature of her condition.

"We are extremely grateful for the quick reaction of the flight surgeon office," Mr. McWhirter said. "The help she received from the anonymous Airman and the flight surgeon office is the reason she is here with us today."

Though doctors are still unsure of what caused Colonel Yates's anaphylactic shock, the colonel said she thinks it was related to a new cosmetic product. She has since learned the product has ingredients that can induce such an allergic reaction. She is still undergoing tests.

"My sincere appreciation goes out to Team Tinker for preserving a 'national asset,'" Mr. McWhirter said.