EXCLUSIVE: Couple stranded by cruise line in Turkey return to Bay Area, husband remains hospitalized

CLEARWATER - Last month, Dodge Melkonian fell down on the first night of a Royal Caribbean cruise and broke his hip.

He and his wife, Jill, said the cruise-line left them in a non-English speaking hospital in Bartin, Turkey.

Elite Travel agency owner Tammy Levent worked tirelessly to get the couple back home.

Levent contacted Action News and we reached out to U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, who worked with the U.S. Embassy.

Now, the Melkonians are back in the U.S.

Dodge Melkonian smiled widely when friends met him and his wife Jill at Tampa International Airport Tuesday morning.  In a wheelchair, he seemed in great spirits to be finally back on American soil.

"I feel fine.  Oh, it's good to be home. Oh, it's so good to be back in the U.S.," he said. "It's a very long day."     

Dodge immediately went to a local hospital for doctors to check out his broken hip.

Much to Jill's relief, physicians here said the doctors in Istanbul took great care of her 89 year old husband.

"They were very excited, I guess he has a very good recuperative body," she said. "The doctors are extremely pleased with the repair of the hip and they did not even need to take another x-ray. They will wait a little while to see more bone growth."

Doctors told Action News, we couldn't visit with Dodge until he gets stronger. We met Jill at the couple's church,  North Bay Community.  She said there is still a long road ahead.

"He can not stand in his own.  He can pivot with help, but he can't stand in his own," said Jill.

Her husband needs weeks of therapy and their bills are mounting, but there is still no clear answers from Royal Caribbean.  She said it's thanks to the hard effort of people, here, they are back home.

"There are many levels to this, Sarina.  I'm not quite sure who did what, but it's thanks to people here we are back."

Jill said the whole ordeal was taxing.

"The scariest part for me was the lack of communication, the language barrier.  I could not give them a proper medical history on him," she said. "They were trying to be kind. They kept saying insurance surgery here and that's one of the things we did not want to happen because they couldn't even explain to me what surgery they were going to do. I just did not want him to have surgery in that facility."

Jill said she wasn't getting the help she needed from the cruise line and they bought the cruise insurance. She called Levent.  That's when Levent and her colleague, Judy Sontag, reached out to an English speaking tour guide named Okun Kutlu.  He helped get the Melkonians to a hospital in Istanbul.

It was a six hour ride and when the Melkonians arrived, they discovered Dodge needed surgery.  But, the hospital did not have his blood type. Kutlu ended up donated his blood for Dodge's surgery.

"Oh there are lots of good people in Turkey," said Jill.

That's when Action News brought their plight to the attention of U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D)  who worked closely with the U.S. Embassy.

Jill told Action News, despite having insurance, the cruise line wanted them to pay out of pocket first and then file a claim. It wasn't an option with bills in the tens of thousands.

"Because of your help and some others, they agreed to pay ten thousand up front and there was an additional amount to get home.  But, the rest of the hospital bill is still not decided. So there's a lot if confusion," said Jill.

She said they are still working with the cruise line to get the problem resolved. She said they bought the insurance that was recommended. This latest cruise was actually a free cruise, a compensation for another Royal Caribbean cruise they were on in April that caught fire.

"I just hope they change some of the policies," she said.

Levent has received calls from Washington to discuss the Melkonians case.

Jill said despite everything they went through they feel fortunate to be back home and ready to help others.

"Everyone says we have bad luck.  But I say no, we have good luck," Jill said.

After numerous calls and e-mails to Royal Caribbean, a spokesperson released this statement to us in August:

"We have been working closely with Mr. & Mrs. Melkonian since Mr. Melkonian fell while onboard our ship. Unfortunately, because of the extent of his injury, Mr. Melkonian could not remain on the ship. We helped arrange transportation via ambulance to the closest area hospital. Once ashore, we worked closely with the travel insurance provider, as they have the expertise to deal with local authorities and medical facilities. Even though Mr. & Mrs. Melkonian had to leave the ship, we still provided assistance to them while in Turkey. One of our Care Team Specialists is with them today. Our focus continues to be on Mr. & Mrs. Melkonian's well-being and we continue to work closely with them to provide the assistance they need. The health and safety of all our guests is always our top priority. We will continue to do what we can to assist Mr. & Mrs. Melkonian, and we wish him a speedy recovery.

Cynthia Martinez
Director, Global Corporate Communications

 

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