Family sues cruise ship operator for not airlifting onboard stroke victim
The suit claims cruise ship operators demonstrated “shocking and appalling negligence and callous disregard for human life”
By Elyssa Cherney
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Lila Kohn Gale was on a cruise eating dinner with her husband and son when she had a stroke on the first night aboard, just four hours after the ship left the docks in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., her family says.
But instead of contacting the Coast Guard for a medevac or turning back to the South Florida coast, the Holland America Line ship continued toward the Bahamas and took Gale, a therapist from north suburban Highwood, via tugboat to a hospital on Grand Bahama island that did not have a working CT scanner or neurology specialists, according to a federal lawsuit filed Monday.
The suit claims cruise ship operators demonstrated “shocking and appalling negligence and callous disregard for human life” in failing to provide proper and prompt medical care to Gale despite having a doctor on board when she lost consciousness on the March 2018 cruise.
Lila Kohn Gale was four hours into a cruise with her husband and son when she had a stroke.— Chicago Tribune (@chicagotribune) February 6, 2019
But, instead of contacting the Coast Guard for a medevac or turning back to the South Florida coast, the ship continued toward the Bahamas. https://t.co/VSMLtkUQ0U
When doctors at the Bahamian hospital determined they could not treat Gale, her family had to wait overnight until the airport opened so an air ambulance could take her to a hospital in Fort Lauderdale, according to the lawsuit. The court filing asserts that Gale, who was rushed into surgery at the Florida hospital, would have suffered less brain damage from the hemorrhage if she had received treatment sooner.
“I want justice,” Gale’s husband, John, said Monday. “I want no one to have to go through this … watching his wife lie on a bed in a crappy hospital in the Caribbean where time is of the essence because the airport is closed. It was by far the worst day of my life.”
Sally Andrews, vice president of public relations at Holland America, declined to comment on the lawsuit.
John Gale, 68, said he and his wife loved traveling and started taking cruises several years ago. The couple married in 2002 after meeting on Match.com, Gale said. Gale said his wife was born in Argentina and worked as a bilingual therapist and counselor.
“She’s brilliant and vivacious, and she is loved by everybody who knows her,” Gale said. “She has more friends than I do, and I grew up here.”
But these days Lila Gale, who goes by Lisette, needs round-the-clock care and attention, according to the lawsuit. The 65-year-old cannot walk and struggles with language while her memory, perception and concentration skills have been impaired, the lawsuit says. John Gale said his wife lives at a nursing home in Highland Park and that he does not expect her to recover enough to come home.
The lawsuit, which seeks in excess of $75,000 and was filed in Seattle, where Holland America is based, specifically faults the company, saying it failed to contact the Coast Guard for an air evacuation even though it advertises having that capability in the case of a medical emergency.
“Instead of being properly assessed and properly air-evacuated to a competent and capable medical facility, Mrs. Gale was treated like a piece of lost luggage,” the lawsuit says. “She went untreated on the vessel and declined as the hours passed by.”
Cruise ships are required to contact the Coast Guard if they are in U.S. territorial waters when someone aboard suffers an injury or medical emergency requiring more than basic first aid, said Petty Officer 2nd Class Jonathan Lally, based in Miami. The Coast Guard can perform medevacs in international waters using such aircraft as MH-60 Jayhawk and MH-65 Dolphin helicopters.
The Holland America ship was in international waters, likely less than 100 miles from the South Florida coast, when Gale had her stroke, but within range for the Coast Guard to perform a medevac, said Gale’s attorney Thomas Scolaro. Gale’s care was delayed by 15 hours because she was not immediately airlifted from the ship, Scolaro said.
“I’ve consulted with neurosurgeons around the country … and had they had made the attempt to get her to an acute care center sooner, she should would have had a significantly better outcome,” Scolaro said.
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