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After a dying man's wish is denied, News 5 takes up the fight

Brain tumor, big business, baffling case
A dying man wished for a final vacation but was denied until 5 On Your Side Investigators stepped in.
Posted at 6:00 AM, Apr 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-23 07:22:06-04

CLEVELAND — A local travel agent contacted 5 On Your Side Investigators with a story she just couldn’t believe. It all surrounds a man’s dying wish to see Europe and his fight with a cruise line.

Money can buy just about anything except for the time a husband and wife need. “He was the man I was supposed to grow old with,” said CariAnn DeJong with tears in her eyes. “I think of being old and sitting on a front porch in rocking chairs.”

Tim and CariAnn DeJong are from Sandy, Utah. They are in their early 40s and thought they had time, until about five years into their marriage, when Tim found out he has a brain tumor.

“Throughout my life, I’ve always had something to look forward to,” said Tim, sardonically adding, “Now, I got death to look forward to."

Couple schedules 'trip of a lifetime'

After the diagnosis, doctors gave Tim six months to a year to live.

Tim and CariAnn decided to make the most of their time together.

“It was a trip of a lifetime,” said CariAnn. “We wanted to go see all of the things in Europe that he had always wanted to see.”

“This man is dying he wants to spend these final moments with his wife,” said the DeJongs' travel agent, Rachel Curby. “He wants to see as much as he can.”

Curby is the local tie to this story. She’s based in Navarre, Ohio. “We’re going to take it and make the best out of it.”

So in late 2019, Curby booked a $5,000 European vacation through Norwegian Cruise Line to be taken in May of 2020. It was not good timing. COVID changed everything, canceling cruises. The company offered credits but not cash.

“It has been a really dark time,” said Curby.

Bad news gets worse

Tim had been going through a rigorous attack on the cancer, but then the darkest news came in January of this year. The treatments stopped working. Tumors grew. New ones appeared.

“I just want to soak in as much time as I possibly can for whatever time we have left together,” said CariAnn with more tears streaming down her face.

Curby tried everything, essentially begging the company to give back the $5,000.

“This is a human thing,” said Curby. “This is not just a numbers game. This is not just about money. This is about humanity and compassion.”

Curby said she even sent medical records with the MRI showing Tim’s brain cancer. However, CariAnn told us Norwegian wouldn’t budge. She said they even responded to her saying, “‘Oh, well, once he’s gone, we’d be happy to move the travel credit over into your name.'"

Consumer complaints

Who knows how much time Tim has left. He’s already outlived the initial one-year estimate. We went searching and found on various consumer websites' complaints against Norwegian, where the company is keeping people’s paid fares during COVID and issuing vouchers instead of refunds.

“You’re holding people’s money for something you haven’t given them anything for,” said Curby.

To add insult to injury, navigating the rough waters of 2020, Norwegain’s CEO nearly doubled his salary to a whopping $37 million, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The Florida Attorney General’s Office reports “approximately 325 consumer contacts (or complaints)” against Norwegian Cruise Line since 2019, and the office has helped customers get back “more than $250,000 in relief.” But that’s not all.

The attorney general “is conducting an extensive investigation” after a whistleblower tip that Norwegian downplayed the risk of COVID-19 in sales pitches with lines like "'the only thing you need to worry about for your cruise is, do you have enough sunscreen…'”

Florida attorney steps in to help

“Immediately, my heart went out to these people,” said Florida attorney Spencer Aronfeld. He’s been helping clients with cruise lines for decades and just had to help when he heard about the DeJongs.

“I don’t resolve passenger issues regarding ticket disputes,” said Aronfeld. “But, I was very happy that in this particular situation, NCL did the right thing.”

He told us he talked with the highest-level attorney at Norwegian.

“He was very upset to hear that this occurred and immediately issued a full refund,” Aronfeld told us.

His help came free of charge.

“Even if they offered to pay me, I would refuse their money,” said Aronfeld.

So, in the end, money couldn’t buy the help they needed, but the money coming back to the DeJongs will buy them lasting memories.

“I just love him so much,” said CariAnn with a sniffle. “I’m going to miss him so much every day for the rest of my life.”

Norwegian's brief response, and CDC recommendations

Norwegian issued a brief statement saying it’s resolving the case. The company did not answer our questions. Norwegian plans on cruising again starting in July.

The CDC right now recommends all people avoid cruises because of COVID. It said if you do take a cruise, get tested 1-3 days before the trip and 3-5 days after the trip even if you’re fully vaccinated. Passengers who are unvaccinated should self-quarantine for seven days after the cruise even if they test negative.

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