HomeTravelsStranded NJ family finally reunited after autistic son kicked off vacation flight

Stranded NJ family finally reunited after autistic son kicked off vacation flight

When Carlos Pacheco, Jamie Greene and their three children visited Aruba last month, they expected a typical family vacation — nothing like the nightmare that stranded two members in the Caribbean for nearly a month.

On May 17, as the family attempted to board their flight home from Aruba to Newark, their 15-year-old son Elijah, who has autism, experienced a sensory episode.

“We had gone on a driving vacation and Elijah had never had any problems,” Pacheco told NJ Advance Media on Monday. “We flew to Disney last year, and he enjoyed the plane ride and even the roller coaster there. Nothing seemed to scare him, so we thought it was safe to go to Aruba.”

Happy ending

Elijah’s family is joined by Wanda Jackson, right, and Regina Lewis, two KultureCity volunteers who drove them from Miami to New JerseyKarim Shamsi Basha

When the family started boarding the United Airlines plane, Elijah stopped at the door and started yelling “toilet,” his way of saying something was wrong.

“I gave him a little nudge and we reached our seats and then he lost control. He refused to sit down, and Jamie and I had to hold him back. Something overwhelmed him, and he started hitting (Greene) and me and kept screaming,” Pacheco said.

A flight attendant informed the parents that the captain had asked them to return to the gate. Elijah’s doctors in the United States had prescribed fast-acting medication in case the teenager became restless. The parents gave him the medicine but there was no change in his behavior. They knew flying on a commercial airline was no longer an option, feeling it would trigger another episode.

Pacheco and Greene then tried a medical evacuation company but were turned down. A cruise line also refused to help.

The family was stuck on an island, 2,000 miles from their home.

“Even the American consulate in Aruba ran out of ideas, and I had to take our other two kids to school in Toms River, so Brandon, Brice and I flew out,” Pacheco said.

As Pacheco was recounting the ordeal on Monday, he saw a white van pull up outside his townhouse.

“I think they’re home,” he said, jumping up and rushing outside to greet his wife and son, who by then had finally returned. They had been gone since May 10.

Pacheco, Greene, and Elijah made out before Elijah ran inside to find his iPad.

“I can’t believe we’re finally home,” Greene said with relief. “At one point I thought we would be stuck in Aruba forever.”

Finally home

Carlos welcomes Jamie and Elijah home.Karim Shamsi Basha

How they got home

On May 22, Julian Maha was browsing Facebook at his home in Birmingham, Alabama when he came across Greene’s post asking for help. Maha asked her friend Vicky Rey, Vice President of Customer Service and Communications at Carnival Cruise Line, if she could help. Rey arranged for one of their ships to divert its course to Aruba and pick up Greene and Elijah, dropping them off in Miami.

Maha also asked two volunteers from KultureCity – a nonprofit founded by Maha to promote sensory inclusion and acceptance for people with invisible disabilities – to drive from Atlanta to Miami and then bring Greene and Elijah back. at their home in Toms River.

“Given Carnival’s close partnership with KultureCity, our team has a deep understanding of the needs of people with sensory and invisible disabilities,” said Rey. “When the organization contacted us about Elijah’s situation and we realized we could get him back to the United States on one of our ships, we didn’t hesitate to offer help. .”


Jamie Greene hugs Regina Lewis who brought her home from Miami.Karim Shamsi Basha

Maha adds, “I knew the minute I read this post that I had to help. I’m grateful that (Greene) and Elijah made it home safe and sound. Their story resonated on so many levels since my autistic child Abram is the same age as Elijah, and my wife Michele and I identified with their sense of hopelessness and hopelessness.

Several celebrities sit on the KultureCity board, including ‘Jersey Shore’ TV star Jenni Farley, aka ‘JWoww’.

“The issues that (Greene) and Elijah endured were truly heartbreaking,” Farley said in a statement. “A few years ago my son Greyson became overstimulated in an airport and had a sensory overload experience. After hearing about (Greene) and his son, I reached out to her while she was stuck at Aruba: Unfortunately, the situation is all too common.


Jenni “JWOWW” Farley at the MTV Movie and TV Awards on Saturday, June 15, 2019 at Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, CA. She called Jamie Greene to make sure her support was coming. (Photo by Danny Moloshok/Invision/AP)Danny Moloshok | Vision | PA

Greene appreciated Farley’s appeal.

“(Farley) was very supportive and told me I was doing a great job in a very difficult situation,” Greene said. “I needed to hear that at the time. It meant a lot.

A new mission

Minutes after the family reunion on Monday, Greene looked at Pacheco next to her, then Elijah playing with his iPad, and shook her head.

“Policies need to change. I understand that airlines have to follow safety protocols, but something like this should never have happened,” Greene said, noting that she wished the airline could come up with an alternative plan to get her back to. home with her child and not leave them to fend for themselves.

“Airlines should treat invisible disabilities the same way they treat visible disabilities. Invisible disabilities include autism, PTSD, traumatic brain injury, anxiety, ADHD, stroke, and other mental health issues,” Greene added.

The United Airlines Disability Policy lists several types of accommodations for special needs, including wheelchair access, CPAP devices and service animals, but does not list a specific policy for passengers with autism. .

Greene wiped his eyes and continued, “We never thought this could happen to us. We now plan to get involved with KultureCity and the autism community. I see the silver lining, just the chance that a policy might change as a result of our story is enough for me.

Karim Shamsi-Basha can be reached at kshamsi-basha@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @njdotcom_foodie. To find NJ.com on Facebook.

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