I only needed a blood transfusion! Why did Norwegian Cruise Line leave me in St. Kitts?

When Andrew Goldstein suffers a sudden medical emergency that requires a blood transfusion while on his recent Norwegian Cruise, he is left behind in St. Kitts to seek treatment. Now he wants our advocacy team to help him get a refund from NCL for his cruise and reimbursement for his additional travel and medical expenses. But is this reasonable?

If you are one of our regular readers, you probably know where this is going. This story is yet another unfortunate tale that shines a light on the importance of travel insurance — even if you don’t think you will need it.

Feeling unwell on Norwegian Cruise Line’s The Breakaway

Goldstein was on a 14-day cruise on Norwegian Cruise Line’s (NCL) The Breakaway when he began feeling unwell. He visited the ship’s medical center and was advised to have two tests: an EKG and a blood test. He refused both and returned to his cabin.

Still feeling ill the next day, he revisited the medical center.

“I agreed to have the tests that I opted not to have done the prior evening,” he told us. “But in addition to these two tests, a lot more was done without my consent.”

“I needed a blood transfusion” 

Later that evening, Goldstein received his blood test results, and it became clear he needed further treatment.

“The doctor told me that my hemoglobin was very low (less than 6), and that I needed a blood transfusion, and that it should be done in a St. Kitts hospital the following day,” Goldstein remembers.

The next morning, Goldstein was escorted off the ship and to the hospital in St. Kitts. Here he was told that it would take two days for the correct blood to arrive for his transfusion. Unwilling to wait for this treatment, and not pleased with the quality of the medical facility, he checked himself out and took a taxi back to the ship.

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Not medically cleared for further cruising

At that time, the ship’s medical team informed Goldstein that he would not be permitted to complete his cruise. Neither the local hospital nor the medical personnel on board the ship could clear him for further travel.

Left with no other option, Goldstein made airfare arrangements and flew home from St. Kitts.

Goldstein believes that  Norwegian Cruise Line improperly denied him reboarding. Since that time,  he has been attempting to receive reimbursement from the cruise line for all of his expenses.

Could Norwegian Cruise Line have provided a blood transfusion?

When I read Goldstein’s complaint, his elevated expectation of how the medical center on board The Breakaway should have handled his self-described “serious medical condition” surprised me. He told me:

Clearly, the best and safest option would have been for me to be allowed to stay in my cabin. A blood donor(s) for A+ blood could have easily been found on The Breakaway, and the transfusion could have been done in the Medical Center. I could have also been given iron supplements, eaten iron-rich foods, and rested a lot. I would have then been in stable condition when I arrived in New York City.

As a consumer advocate, I’m always ready to go to bat for a consumer. But in this situation, I could not. Expecting the crew to search for a suitable blood donor, do all the required laboratory testing of the blood and perform a transfusion aboard the cruise ship in a nonemergency situation wasn’t reasonable.

Complaint letters

Goldstein’s complaint letters to Norwegian Cruise Line accused the doctor and captain of The Breakaway of making “very bad decisions” that put his life in danger by leaving him in St. Kitts. He demanded that they send him his refund and reimbursements by overnight mail within one week.

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The hostile nature of Goldstein’s letters to NCL likely alienated him from any executive who may have read his complaint. As we have frequently pointed out, this type of aggressive strategy rarely ends in a consumer victory. And it wasn’t successful for Goldstein either.

How travel insurance could have helped

If Goldstein had purchased a good travel insurance policy, it could have covered all of his expenses, including his missed cruise and his evacuation from St. Kitts. The travel insurance company could have made all of his return travel arrangements for him — alleviating much of his anxiety.

As you have probably guessed, Goldstein did not purchase any travel insurance for this trip.

Norwegian Cruise line’s response

In their response letter to Goldstein, NCL explains that:

Please understand that guests who leave the ship early for personal or medical reasons are not entitled to a cruise refund, as stated in our brochure and contract of passage.
Although our records show you did not purchase the passenger protection program offered by Norwegian Cruise Line, if you purchased travel insurance through an independent agency you may wish to file a claim with your insurance carrier for the days you were ill, and also for your out of pocket expenses.

I reviewed the terms and conditions that NCL is referencing. In the section entitled “Refusal of Passage” I found the pertinent information for Goldstein’s case:

NCL reserves the right to decline to accept or retain any person as a passenger on the cruise at any time. NCL shall not be required to refund any portion of the fare paid by any passenger who must leave the ship prematurely, nor shall it be responsible for lodging, medical care expenses, meals, return transportation or other expenses incurred by the passenger.

Unhappy with our advocacy team’s position, Goldstein took his plight to our forums. He wasn’t pleased with what he heard there either. He reiterated that if NCL had just left him in his cabin to relax he would have been fine.

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Perhaps — but what if his condition had worsened at sea? There is no way anyone, not even Goldstein, could have predicted the course that his illness would take. And a cruise ship medical center is not the place you want to find yourself in a real medical emergency.

Norwegian Cruise Line’s final word

And as NCL pointed out to him:

Please note that the shipboard medical facility is equipped to provide basic medical care; we cannot offer care for conditions requiring specialized expertise or equipment.

…Like a blood transfusion.

We receive many letters from consumers who want to retroactively invoke the benefits of a good travel insurance policy even though they did not purchase one. We can’t help in these cases. What we can do is to continue to stress how beneficial travel insurance can be when faced with unexpected illnesses and accidents — before and during your travels.

The good and the bad news

We are happy to hear that Goldstein has recovered. While we wish we could provide him some additional assistance, it just isn’t possible.

Hopefully, his story will serve as a reminder to future travelers that even if you think you are healthy and strong, you may want to consider travel insurance to protect against life’s unanticipated calamities — because that is what it is designed for.

Should NCL have provided an on-board blood transfusion for Goldstein?

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle is the executive director of Elliott Advocacy. She is a consumer advocate, writer, an SEO-lady, and licensed clinical social worker who spends as much time as possible exploring the world with her family. Contact her at Michelle Friedman Read more of Michelle's articles here.

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