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Cancer patient in race to leave coronavirus-stricken Grand Princess cruise ship

6 March 2020, 18:38

Kari Kolstoe is on holiday with her husband ahead of further treatment for cancer
Kari Kolstoe is on holiday with her husband ahead of further treatment for cancer. Picture: Kari Kolstoe
Rachael Kennedy

By Rachael Kennedy

A passenger quarantined aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship is in a race to get home to begin new treatment for stage four cancer.

Kari Kolstoe, from Grand Forks, North Dakota, is aboard the ship quarantined off the coast of California which has 21 confirmed cases of coronavirus on board.

But she has neuroendocrine cancer - an illness that creates tumours all over the body - and needs to get home to begin a new round of treatment on Monday.

Speaking to LBC News on Friday, Mrs Kolstoe said she and her husband had planned the trip "for a long time" but they weren't optimistic about being able to go due to her illness.

"It didn't look like I would be able to go because I had radiation and surgery in January and February," she said.

"But neither of them did much to contain the cancer, so we were looking for new treatment."

Mrs Kolstoe explained that other treatments would need approval from her health insurance providers, which could take some time.

"So while that was being sorted," she added: "They said to go on my trip."

READ MORE: 'Second UK coronavirus death' as worldwide cases surge past 100,000

Quarantine brought into effect

The insurance providers eventually called Mrs Kolstoe earlier this week to confirm she had been approved for the new round of chemotherapy, and was scheduled for an appointment on Monday.

But on Wednesday she said a note was pushed under the door of her cabin on the cruise to say the vessel would be bypassing its scheduled stop in Mexico to head straight for San Francisco.

It said an investigation was being launched into a "small cluster" of coronavirus cases which were connected to the cruise between 11-21 February.

"We are closely recording and monitoring all persons who have reported to the medical center with cold and flu symptoms during the voyage," the letter said.

It added: "As a precaution, we are also conducting additional enhanced environmental disinfection onboard in addition to our regular stringent cleaning and sanitation protocols."

READ MORE: UK coronavirus cases rise to 163 with two feared dead

A letter was pushed under the door to inform passengers of the change in route
A letter was pushed under the door to inform passengers of the change in route. Picture: Kari Kolstoe

"It was very hard. We couldn't really tell what was going on," Mrs Kolstoe said.

She added: "We're not being told a ton, but the captain is just doing what he is told."

"We probably get more news from the TV than we do actually being told what's happening on the ship."

When asked if anyone had spoken to her regarding her condition and urgently needing to get home, she said: "Not at all."

"I called [authorities] yesterday and told them my situation.

"He basically said 'I don't know what's going to happen here but it will eventually be passed along to the Center for Disease Control (CDC)' and hopefully will get approval to get off quicker."

Mrs Kolstoe said that on top of everything, her illness has resulted in her breaking her spine, meaning she is in almost constant pain when she sits down in conventional chairs

She went to say she had also hoped to get access to a chair that would support her back, but hadn't yet received one.

Tests are currently being carried out on some of the 3,553 people aboard the Grand Princess ship, but no cases of COVID-19 have yet been confirmed.

it comes after a man from Sacramento died after sailing on the ship in early February.

Officials have said two other passengers from the ship have been taken to hospital with the virus in Northern California and two Canadians tested positive after returning home.

The US Coast Guard have resorted to flying in testing kit for those on board.

So far, only 45 people have been tested for COVID-19.

It comes after more than 700 people contracted COVID-19 aboard another Princess Cruises vessel - Diamond Princess - which docked off the coast of Japan.

READ MORE:

- More than 140 Brits stranded on cruise ship off California coast

- Coronavirus panic buying as stockpilers clear shop shelves

'I'm hoarding Coca Cola'

Speaking about her experience of quarantine, Mrs Kolstoe joked: "I've been hoarding a can of coke," and said she hoped she would be given another one.

She added: "It is kind of surreal. You're kind of stuck in this room and feel like you're the only one stuck on this ship.

"Someone in a mask comes to our door and drops our dinner outside our door - we feel like we're in all these gerbil cages. It's small to say the least."

Mrs Kolstoe said she is unsure when passengers will be given the all-clear to leave the ship, but that waiting around combined with the approaching appointment for treatment was hard.

"That's the tough part," she said. "That's pretty much it if you can imagine just sitting in a tiny little room.

"There have been lots of tears."