Clearwater couple on cruise left at Turkish hospital after hip injury

By Saundra Weathers, Reporter
Last Updated: Sunday, August 25, 2013

Instead of taking pictures from an exotic location on a Royal Caribbean cruise, Jill and Dodge Melkonian are smiling for pictures in a Turkish hospital.

The Clearwater couple’s travel agent said when they hopped on a plane at Tampa International Airport for their international cruise, they thought it would be the perfect get away. Especially since this was a trip given to them by the cruise line to make up for a fire started on their first one.

But it was the exact opposite.

“I have threads of emails and it was seven hours in that they were already in this hospital that they shouldn’t be in and there was still no response to Royal Caribbean begging asking for help,” said the couple’s travel agent, Tammy Lavente.

Lavente said Dodge Mekonian broke his hip on Monday and cruise officials dropped him and his wife off at a Turkish hospital. She said not only were they left alone, there was a language barrier and the couple wasn’t confident in the care they were getting.

“The conditions were very poor. I can’t say they were dirty and filthy. I mean all of those words didn’t come out from her its all the media changing that. It was just not to the standard that they would be able to do this type of surgery,” she said.

After hours of pain, confusion and battling with the cruise line, Lavente said the couple was finally moved to another hospital. Thanks to a Turkish tour guide Lavente’s agency found, they now have a translator. He even donated blood to the elderly man.

“Okan Kutlu that’s his name said wait I have that type blood type, I’ll give you my blood so he’s not only the translator. He got the original ambulance; he called the consulate, got everything they needed, Lavente said.

It’s help Lavente said the couple didn’t get from the cruise line until days later. She said Royal Caribbean has stepped up but she wants more done.

As for when this couple will make it back to the Bay area, she said that all depends on his progress from hip surgery.

Senator Bill Nelson also got in on this asking for more to be done to help this couple. Their travel agent said she’s now working on legislation to make sure this doesn’t happen to any one else.

The couple’s travel agent says the elderly man is a World War II veteran and a philanthropist in the Bay area. She says many of the groups he’s involved in have already stepped in to help them get back home.

 

Royal Caribbean Cruises sent the following statement:

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. Actually, one of our Care Team Specialists is still in contacted with them today. 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.