Tragedy Inspires Family to Fight for Changes on Cruises

A woman's medical emergency aboard a cruise and her death just weeks later have inspired her daughters to push for stricter 'round-the-clock emergency care on all cruise ships.

“When you get on these boats, you assume you’re going to be treated like you are in the United States,” Amanda Butler said. “And you’re really putting your life in your own hands.”

Amanda and her family were on board the Carnival Conquest for four days when her mother went from a vibrant 51-year-old to falling to the ground in mid-sentence.

“I leaned down and realized she’s not breathing, and I can’t find a pulse,” Amanda said. “This is Mom, what do I do?”

Amanda and her father said it would take an additional 15 minutes before cruise ship medical workers showed up to help. The family said it took even longer to get inside the medical facility on the ship where the defibrillator was located.

“They had to open up the doctor’s office. The computers, the lights, everything was off,” Amanda said. “They’re only open five hours a day. So if you have an emergency outside of those five hours, God bless your soul.”

Carnival responded to the situation in a statement.

“Highly competent, well-trained medical professionals are available on board our ships 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In this particular case, there was a doctor on board when the situation occurred," it said.

The family paid for a private jet to transport the mother to Jackson Memorial Hospital. She would pass away approximately two weeks later. Amanda said no one understands what it means “to have a broken heart until they lose their mother.”

Still, Amanda and her father are taking their fight for better care on ships to Washington, D.C. Amanda is scheduled to speak to a U.S. Senate committee and is pushing for stricter 24-hour emergency care on board all cruise ships.

“They’ve got to be prepared to be able to handle emergency situations,” Butler said.

Local cruise expert Stewart Chiron said most major ships go above and beyond what’s required by law for medical care.

"What more can the cruise industry do?" Chiron said. "It looks like in some cases, persons are upset about certain responses... but you see the same types in complaints on shore."

The Senate hearing takes place Wednesday and will focus not only on medical care but also crime and safety issues aboard cruises.

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