Short on aid from airlines, Problem Solvers help swimmer with Down Syndrome get home from Italy

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The last time FOX 4 met Allison VanHoesen, she was training to break another national record for swimmers with Down Syndrome.

In fact, FOX 4 caught up with her just before she headed to Florence, Italy to compete in the Trisome Games.

The day she left for those games is when her problem started.

Allison, her mom Kindra and coach Julie Reilly had flown on Southwest Airlines from Kansas City to Chicago where they were supposed to catch a connecting flight to Newark, and then from Newark fly Lufthansa to Italy.

The Southwest flight to Newark was canceled because of stormy weather, which meant the Allison's party would miss their flight to Italy.

Allison's mom tried to rebook the flight for the next day, but Lufthansa told her that would cost an additional $6,000. They would be forced to buy new, last-minute tickets because Southwest was not a partner airline, therefore, Lufthansa did not have to honor their tickets.

Desperate to get to Italy for the games, they searched other airlines and found three $600 one-way tickets from Chicago (where they were still stranded) to Italy on Air Berlin. The bought the tickets, but still had no idea how they would afford to get home.

Lufthansa wouldn't even allow them to use their return tickets (even though they had flight insurance on Lufthansa) since they had missed their outbound flight because of a delay caused by a non-partner airline.

"I told Kindra just to go to Italy and we'll get worked out somehow," said David Maycock, Allison's grandfather.

But privately Maycock was worried and surprised.

"Very surprised," said an emotional Maycock. "This is the first Olympic-type games for Down Syndrome people," he said shaking his head as his voice broke.

But the next morning, he thought he'd found a solution.

"When I woke up this morning I thought: Problem Solvers," Maycock said.

He called us, and we called Lufthansa, naively thinking that if we just explained the importance of the trip to the airline it would open its heart and bend its policy. But we were wrong. We then tried calling an American airline. It also didn't offer any help, saying it followed the same policies as Lufthansa.

Finally, Problem Solvers called Expedia -- the internet giant that helps customers find good rates on travel. Expedia saved the day. A spokesman told us the company was excited to be able to help a young athlete explore her dreams.

By the next day, Expedia had booked return flight tickets for Allison, her mom and coach -- all at no charge.

Meanwhile, Allison kept competing at the Trisome Games. She was blissfully unaware of all the chaos to get her home.

She beat her own personal best on two events, placing 12th in the world. This weekend she heads home, knowing the United States was rooting for her whether in the pool or in the air.