An autistic 15-year-old boy and his mum were left stranded in the Caribbean for three weeks after he had a meltdown on a plane.
Mum Jamie Greene, from Toms River in New Jersey, US, flew her son Elijah Kapatos, her two younger children Brandon, 7, and Brice, 12, and her boyfriend Carlos Pacheco to Aruba for a holiday.
The family-of-five arrived without incident and enjoyed their trip.
But Elijah had a meltdown after they arrived at Oranjestad Airport in Aruba, for their return flight to Newark, on May 17.
Carlos how Elijah, who has ‘low-functioning, non-verbal autism’, stopped at the doorway when he went to get on the United Airlines plane.
He started to scream ‘toilet’, which is his way of saying something is wrong.
‘I gave him gentle nudge and we made it to our seats, then he lost control,’ Carlos added.
‘He refused to sit, and Jamie and I had to hold him down.
‘Something caused him to be overwhelmed, and he began to hit his mother and me and continued screaming.
The pilot told the family needed to get off the flight, so the five relatives left the plane.
Elijah was given his emergency medicine, but still would not calm down.
Jamie wrote on Facebook: ‘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.
‘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.’
The family contacted an emergency medical evacuation company, but they were unable to help.
Eventually Carlos was forced to fly home with the couple’s other two children on May 24 as they needed to go to school.
But Jamie and Elijah remained on the Caribbean island and posted desperate appeals for help on social media.
Eventually medic Julian Maha, who runs KultureCity – a charity which helps people with non-verbal and invisible disabilities – got in touch.
He contacted Carnival Cruises, and the company agreed to redirect one of its ships to go and pick up Elijah and Jamie.
Julian wrote on Facebook: ‘It takes a family.’
The pair left Aruba on June 5 for Miami, and when they arrived two KultureCity volunteers drove them home to New Jersey. They got home on Monday.
Jamie said: ‘It’s hard to describe the last month – it’s heartbreaking, sad and beautiful all wrapped up into one,’ wrote Greene on Facebook. It’s strength, and panic and support.’
She told changes needed to be made to policies so no one else is abandoned like they were.
‘Policies have to change,’ Jamie added. ‘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. We now plan to be involved with KultureCity and the autism community.
‘I’m seeing the silver lining, just the chance that a policy might change as a result of our story is enough for me.’
United Airlines has a disability policy which includes things such as wheelchair access and service animals, but does not cover autism. The company has been contacted for comment.
Do you find OkayWap useful? Click here to give us five stars rating!