"I was looking at Kaley and I was scared and she looked terrified," she said.
She says just seconds after her 12-year-old daughter Kaley opened a snack on their United Airlines flight she had a nut allergy attack.
"I ate the pretzels and there were nuts in the bottom and I started spitting them out knowing something was wrong," Kaley said. "My throat was getting itchy and closing up I didn't know what to think of it."
Kaley Winchester is allergic to nuts.
It all started with a typical travel nightmare, a delayed flight out of LA, then Caroline and her three kids had to run through O'Hare Airport to make their connection in Chicago to get back home to the Triangle.
In all that stress, they didn't have time to eat. So, once on board, Caroline asked a United Flight attendant for a snack.
"I said please let me buy some food and water for the kids, they haven't eaten," Caroline said. "She brought me back three bags white bags with United Airlines symbol like UA on them. I opened the bag and saw pretzels so I gave one to Kaley."
But Kaley soon realized the pretzels she'd eaten weren't the only snack in what Caroline says was a generic wrapper.
"She said there are nuts in here," Caroline said. "So there were pretzels and on the bottom there were almonds."
Even though Kaley didn't eat any almonds, they had touched the pretzels.
"I buzzed for the flight attendant she came and I gave Kaley a Benadryl," Caroline Winchester said.
She grabbed Kaley's EpiPen and just then, the plane started taxiing for takeoff.
"Trying to figure out what we were going to do because it scared me to go in the air," Caroline said. "We were taking off really, really fast, as fast as you can go to lift off and I don't know where we were at, but I ran to the front, I said we had to go back."
"I was getting scared, because I didn't know what was going on," Kaley said.
The plane stopped just before takeoff, returned to the terminal and called for help.
"There was an ambulance on tarmac .. took us off plane, took Kaley off the plane and started giving her IV's and oxygen," Caroline said.
EMS rushed her to an ER in Chicago.
"At the hospital when they gave me the steroids I started feeling normal again," Kaley said.
She was lucky, but her mother says she wonders if the next person with a nut allergy will be so lucky.
"Kaley could have died, she could have died," Caroline said. "I don't think the nuts should be on the plane in this day and time."
She says she was so fired up, she e-mailed united airlines when she finally got home.
"I got a short response that said we're so sorry your daughter had an allergic reaction we will be back in touch with you within seven days, and that was probably six weeks ago," Caroline said.
So, Caroline got in touch with ABC11 Eyewitness News I-Team Troubleshooter Diane Wilson, who reached out to United.
A United Airlines representative said they are investigating and did reach out to Caroline. Caroline tells ABC11 that a United rep apologized for not getting back to her in a timely fashion. She says they offered her four vouchers for travel within the United States.
Caroline says she doesn't put all the blame on United.
"I should have been more careful looking in the bag and knowing what was in it," Kaley said.
Caroline says she will continue to tell Kaley's story, hoping other families and airlines can learn from it.
A United rep says its disclosure on their website explains, United does not serve peanuts as snacks or use peanuts or peanut oils in foods served on our flights. However, they do serve vendor products manufactured in facilities that also produce items containing peanuts or peanut oils, and they do have snack mixes that contain other tree nuts, such as almonds and pistachios. The statement also states they cannot guarantee a nut-free environment.