CRUISING TO THE RESCUE: Autistic boy STRANDED in Aruba for 3 WEEKS after panic attack on plane arrives home
Jamie Greene was on vacation with her boyfriend Carlos Pacheco, and her sons 15-year-old Elijah Kapatos, 12-year-old Brice, and 7-year-old Brandon, in Aruba. But when the Toms River, New Jersey residents arrived at the Oranjestad Airport for their return flight, Elijah, who has low-functioning, non-verbal autism, became startled.
The teenager stopped at the doorway and started screaming "toilet" which was his way of saying something was wrong. "I gave him a gentle nudge and we made it to our seats, then he lost control. He refused to sit, and Jamie and I had to hold him down. Something caused him to be overwhelmed, and he began to hit (Greene) and me and continued screaming," Pacheco told NJ.com.
Jamie Greene and her 15-year-old child spent nearly a month in Aruba trying to get home. A cruise ship helped. https://t.co/wP0SZA5gWe— MLive (@MLive) June 8, 2022
The parents gave Elijah the fast-acting medication prescribed by the doctor in case the teen became agitated, but there was no change in his behavior. When a United Airlines flight attendant informed them that the captain had requested them to return to the gate, the family left the plane. Pacheco and Greene tried a medical evacuation company but were turned down, followed by a cruise line that refused to help them.
"Even the US Consulate in Aruba ran out of ideas, and I had to get our two other children back to school at Toms River, so Brandon, Brice, and I flew back," Pacheco revealed. Greene and Elijah remained on the island for three weeks, posting appeals for help on social media. One of their messages was seen by Julian Maha, an ER physician and the Alabama-based founder of KultureCity, which helps those with nonverbal disabilities like PTSD, strokes, and autism. He got in touch with his contacts at Carnival Cruises, and the company agreed to redirect one of their ships to pick Greene and Elijah up, reports MSN.
Jamie Greene of Toms River said her 15-year-old son, who has “low-functioning, non-verbal autism,” was fine on the family's flight to Aruba. But after resisting the flight home, “he’s got it in his head that he’s absolutely not getting on another plane." https://t.co/kE7M5IEAli— Asbury Park Press (@AsburyParkPress) May 24, 2022
Maha explained, "I knew the minute I read that post that I had to help. I am grateful that (Greene) and Elijah are home safely. Their story resonated on so many levels since my autistic child Abram is of the same age as Elijah. My wife Michele and I identified with their sense of hopelessness and desperation." Greene said, "I cannot believe we're finally home. At one point, I thought we would be stuck on Aruba forever." She posted a long message on Facebook, revealing what happened and thanking everyone for their support.
"Elijah and I are not only just on US soil but we are HOME!! We finished the last leg of our journey this afternoon and I have never felt more at peace. It's hard to describe the last month, it's heartbreaking, sad, and beautiful all wrapped up into one. It's strength and panic and support. You think you have all your ducks in a row, Elijah's flown before, we have sedation medicine on hand just in case and we made it to Aruba without incident," Greene wrote in the message.
“It’s good to see there are still really good people out there, strangers who just want to help.” Jamie Greene and Elijah Kapatos now have a ride home from Aruba: https://t.co/xkmtIoBGox— Asbury Park Press (@AsburyParkPress) May 27, 2022
"On the flight home, he became scared and violent and we were asked to leave the plane. What we didn't know was there is no policy in place for when this kind of situation arises. Not from the embassy, not from the US consulate, not from the emergency room or doctors in Aruba. That absolutely needs to change! With the help of family, we arranged a private air ambulance to fly us to Miami at the cost of 33 thousand dollars. It's so hard to hear the words snowed, ventilator and ketamine when they are referring to the other half of your soul," the post continued.
"Then, the most extreme and our only measure backed out citing he was too unstable to fly. Our low functioning autism was too unstable for a medivac, still hard to think about. Thank God our story got to the right people, Julian from kulturecity.org contacted Carnival cruise who was not only willing, but wanted to sail Elijah and I back for free! And not just us, my brother flew to Aruba and took the cruise home with us as support, missing his own son's college graduation. Directly from the cruise, KultureCity had a car waiting that took us all the way from Miami to New Jersey with two of the most amazing women driving," she added.
A call out - my friend is currently stranded in Aruba. Her son who is autistic wasn’t able to safely comply on the flight home last week. Tried to charter but were told he’s unfit to fly. They don’t know what their options are & I’m hoping to connect them to someone who might.— Arianna Rebolini (@AriannaRebolini) May 22, 2022
"We are forever grateful for the family that stepped up in ways that I could have only dreamed about, the strangers that became forever family, and the outpouring of love that was thrown our way! After two long weeks, I’ve reunited with my children and Carlos and all is right in my world! THANK YOU TO ALL WHO HELPED / CALLED / COMMENTED / SHARED AND DONATED TO HELP BRING MY BEAUTIFUL ELIJAH HOME SAFELY [x8 yellow heart emojis]," the post concluded.
"Policies have to change. I understand that airlines must follow safety protocols, but something like this should have never happened. Airlines should treat invisible disabilities the same way they treat visible disabilities. Invisible disabilities include autism, PTSD, traumatic brain injury, anxiety, ADHD, strokes, and other mental health challenges. We never thought this could happen to us. I'm seeing the silver lining, just the chance that a policy might change as a result of our story is enough for me," Greene told NJ.com.