Ontario family stranded in Cuba after son falls ill on vacation

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WATCH ABOVE: A Hamilton-area mother is trying to get her son back on Canadian soil after he fell ill while on vacation in Cuba. As Shallima Maharaj explains, it has been a costly and confusing process for the stranded family – Jul 25, 2017

It was intended to be a fun-filled family getaway in Cuba, but it soon changed course when a young family member fell ill. Now a family from Hamilton is struggling to return to Canada.

Nicole Antinello went to Cuba with her seven-year-old son Cole, 16-year-old daughter and 76-year-old mother. After a week in the Caribbean, they boarded a plane back to Toronto. They never left the tarmac.

Cole was visibly ill and officials noticed.

“They called the medical team to see if he was safe to fly. The medical team said, ‘No, he was not safe to fly,'” she told Global News.

“They took us off the flight. They would not allow my mom or my daughter to stay on the flight and made us all get off.”

Cole was taken to hospital and he was diagnosed with appendicitis.

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“They pushed on his belly and he said, ‘Ow.’ He did not scream. He did not freak out. He did not have prior pain.”

Antinello phoned her insurance provider and said they advised her to do what the doctors prescribed. Cole’s appendix was removed on Saturday, but a lengthy recovery means he still hasn’t received clearance to fly home.

Cole is now on the mend. His mother is trying to get them home to Canada. Supplied

Since Antinello shared the story on Facebook with a link to a GoFundMe page, it has received significant attention. Friends, family and perfect strangers have shared her post asking for help.

Antinello described the hospital conditions as deplorable.

“There’s water that won’t stop running, there’s toilets that are overflowing … there’s dust flying in the air.”

She said insurance will cover the cost of the surgery, but as of Tuesday afternoon, she said her provider was still trying to reach officials in Havana before covering Cole’s medical bills.

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A fan inside the hospital Nicole Antinello’s son was recovering in. Supplied

When contacted by Global News, a Manulife spokesperson said the company was not able to discuss specific details.

“The health and well-being of our customers is our priority and we take great care to ensure their needs are met,” the spokesperson said.

“Manulife takes the responsibility of protecting the privacy of our customers very seriously.”

A spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada was also contacted by Global News and they would only confirm a Canadian was treated in Cuba.

“Our thoughts are with the family and friends of the Canadian Citizen who required…a medical procedure in Holguin, Cuba,” the spokesperson said.

“Canadian consular officials in Guardalavaca and Havana, Cuba are in contact with local authorities and are providing consular assistance to the family as required.”

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READ MORE: Tourists from Canada and England report illness, injury at 4-star Cuban resort

When vacationing abroad, Dr. Ken Gamble said preparation and response depends on where you are going.

“What can you anticipate as the most common of the ailments that you get? Then go prepared for those,” he told Global News,

“How is [the ailment] interfering with the quality of my trip? If it’s cutting into the quality of your trip, then it takes a higher priority.”

And if you tried treatments and those aren’t working, Gamble said you should approach consular officials in the country where you are and seek help.

READ MORE: Canadian travellers report illnesses at Cuban resorts promoted and operated by Sunwing

“What is our consulate in this country? Who are they sending the embassy staff to? That’s likely the place where you’re going to get the best care,” he said.

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As for Antinello and her family, she said she is running severely low on cash and extended the limit on one credit card. Antinello said she is having to pay out of pocket for many items.

She said insurance is paying up to $1,300 for extra cellphone usage, taxis and hotel stays.

Around $900 was raised to fly Antinello’s daughter and mother home to Toronto.

As for her flight with her son, they will be footing the bill. It is an upfront cost that she said she is unable to pay on her own. Once she returns to Canada, she said she will be visiting her family doctor.

“We’re going to go through testing when we get back and if they find any signs that it was not appendicitis, I will be contacting a lawyer,” Antinello said.

She told Global News if Cole shows no signs of a fever between now and Friday, they could be allowed to fly back.

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