Teen with Down syndrome, breathing defect gets red carpet 'Cinderella' treatment from airline

Elise Solé
Shantell "Shannie" Pooser, 17, has a terminal airway defect and Down syndrome. American Airlines made sure the teen traveled to her latest surgery in style. (Photo: Courtesy of American Airlines)

American Airlines threw a three-city Disney-themed party for its favorite customer — a teen with Down syndrome and terminal airway defects.

Shantell Pooser, a.k.a “Shannie” or “Princess” was born with a defect consisting of three different breathing conditions, a heart defect and Down syndrome. Shannie’s lungs are 80 percent obstructed and without Tuesday’s surgery, during which doctors implanted a prosthetic tracheotomy, her health would have further deteriorated.

Since 2016, Shannie and her mother Deanna Miller Berry have flown from their home in Columbia, South Carolina to Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center in Ohio for surgeries. Their carrier of choice: PSA Airlines, an American Airlines subsidiary.

“We flew Delta once, and when Shannie saw those uniforms, she was not having it,” Berry tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

During one of those flights, Shannie received her first pair of kids’ wings and wanted to one day work for the airline. For her 17th birthday in October, Berry threw her daughter an American Airlines-themed birthday party, but when she emailed the company to use its logo on DIY party favors, she got a bigger surprise.

The airline threw Shannie a birthday party in the first-class section of a Boeing plane, with her friends, including Columbia, S.C. mayor Stephen K. Benjamin, according to CBS News. Shannie received an official American Airlines uniform and has since performed on-board duties such as greeting passengers and passing out snacks.

Berry, a disabled veteran, worried that she couldn’t afford travel expenses for Shannie’s latest surgery. But when she called American Airlines pilot and now-friend Matt Coelyn to explain her problem, the company purchased Shannie’s entire family round-trip tickets and a 29-night stay at the Kingsgate Hotel in Cincinnati.

“I felt every emotion then,” Berry tells Yahoo Lifestyle, not yet realizing what was in store for her daughter.

To travel to Cincinnati for a life-saving surgery Shannie Pooser, who has heart and breathing defects, enjoyed a three-city celebration, thanks to her friends at American Airlines. (Photo: Courtesy of American Airlines)

On Monday, when the family drove to Columbia Metropolitan Airport, they were welcomed with a wheelchair with balloons, a red carpet and VIP signs. “After we passed through TSA, there was a huge cake for everyone in the terminal,” Berry tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

But the grander surprise was the plane itself: The Boeing 900 jet bore Shannie’s name on a sticker. “They dedicated the jet to Shannie,” Berry tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “I was bawling.”

The plane landed in Charlotte, North Carolina for a short layover and the crew wheeled up a chair with even bigger balloons, says Berry.

Flight attendants wore pink-and-teal scarves, the teen’s favorite colors, and dressed Shannie in a sash. The family was escorted to a second private party, with a red carpet and food donated by airport vendors. “People missed their flights to party with Shannie and American accommodated everyone,” says Berry.

The crew asked Shannie to name her favorite Disney character (anyone from the Descendants series). And when the family landed at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, they learned why.

PSA Airlines, a subsidiary of American Airlines, dedicated one of its jets to "Princess Shannie," a teen suffering from a terminal breathing defect. (Photo: Courtesy of American Airlines)

After giving Shannie with a wheelchair decorated with an extravagant balloon arch, a special guest appeared. “We saw a woman dressed as Cinderella and Shannie went crazy, saying, ‘Hey girl!’” Berry tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

Castle displays and balloon art lined the terminal, another lavish buffet fed hungry passengers, and a gift table offered colorful scarves to protect Shannie’s prosthetic tracheotomy. “We stayed at the airport for three hours, then rode to the hospital in a pink stretch limo,” Berry tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

During Shannie’s surgery, the flight attendants kept Berry company and on Thursday night, upper management will pay the family a visit.

“It gave Princess so much strength looking at videos of the parties,” Berry tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “She was in love.”

An American Airlines spokesperson tells Yahoo Lifestyle, “Shantell ‘Princess’ Pooser thought that becoming the first special needs flight attendant for American Airlines last year was the highlight of her aviation dreams. That is, until this past week when team members came together to give her an experience she will never forget...”

Next year, after Shannie turns 18, she will become an American Airlines ambassador, traveling to industry conferences. “Shannie wants to be involved with American Airlines in any way,” Berry tells Yahoo Lifestyle, “as long as she can wear the uniform.”

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