'Selfless' flight attendant goes above and beyond to help girl with diabetes

Posted July 25

Heroes come in many forms, but for one little girl on an airplane, her knight in shining armor also happened to be the man who pushes the drink cart through the aisle. (Deseret Photo)

ORLANDO — Heroes come in many forms, but for one little girl on an airplane, her knight in shining armor also happened to be the man who pushes the drink cart through the aisle.

Nine-year-old Gabby Swart lives with Type 1 diabetes — a condition that can be dangerously aggravated by anxiety and stress. As with many people, Gabby gets nervous while flying, and though she was given priority seating on a recent Southwest flight from Orlando to New Jersey, she had a hard time calming herself when the plane taxied away from the gate, TODAY reports.

Gabby was flying with her mom, Erika Swart, and two younger siblings. Swart had to sit across the aisle from her daughter with her younger children and hoped she’d be able to calm her older daughter by holding her hand.

As the plane took off, Gabby began to struggle. That’s when flight attendant Garrick Riley stepped in, asking Swart if her daughter was OK.

Once the plane hit cruising altitude, Gabby calmed a bit.

"Garrick came over and said, 'You did so good, I'm so proud of you! I'm going to let you get the first drink on the plane,'" Swart told TODAY. "Because of her illness, we don't do a lot of sugary drinks, but I said she could have whatever she wanted. She was so stressed out that she said she'd just have water."

From that point forward, Swart says, Riley was glued to Gabby’s side. When he sensed her nerves were getting the best of her, he’d make a joke or ask her a silly question. He even showed Gabby the flight tracker on his phone and explained to her what the landing would be like when she expressed concern about that portion of the flight, TODAY reports.

“As we were getting closer weather was rough and there was a bit of turbulence. Gabby began having a complete panic attack on descent,” Swart wrote in a post on Southwest Airlines’ Facebook page. “He came up to the front and asked if she would like for him to sit next to her in the empty seat.”

Gabby clung to Riley’s arm through the turbulence, as he worked hard to distract her by showing her pictures of his daughter and asking her about school, Swart said. When Gabby’s blood sugar dropped to dangerous levels, Riley immediately brought her some orange juice.

“Once on the ground while taxiing to the gate, he came on the intercom and announced that his friend Gabby in the front row overcame her fears of flying and asked for a round of applause,” Swart wrote. “The whole plane clapped for her… We are forever grateful to have met such a beautiful, selfless soul.”

Swart’s post has garnered 41,000 reactions and has been shared nearly 4,000 times. This kind of news, Swart says, is the kind of news that deserves to go viral.

"When you're afraid like that, you can feel so alone," she told TODAY. "To have grown adults show compassion for a difficult moment ... we don't have to jump to be judgmental and hard on people. We all have our reasons for these things."

Jessica Ivins is a content manager for and contributor to the Motherhood Matters section.


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