Three More People Say They Got Seriously Sick At The Dominican Republic Resort Where Three Americans Died
“I was so scared, I didn’t know what to do,” one previous visitor told BuzzFeed News.
Three more people have told BuzzFeed News they became ill at the same Dominican Republic resort where three visitors recently died.
Edward Nathaniel Holmes and Cynthia Ann Day of Maryland were found dead in their room at the Grand Bahia Principe La Romana hotel on May 30, with police saying they died of respiratory failure and pulmonary edema, or fluid in the lungs.
Five days earlier, another tourist, Miranda Schaup-Werner, collapsed and died at the resort's adjacent hotel, the Luxury Bahia Principe Bouganville. Local authorities determined that Schaup-Werner died from a heart attack, according to the resort.
In a statement Wednesday, the resort chain that owns the two hotels, Bahia Principe, said it had found "no indications of any correlation between these two unfortunate events."
Robin Bernstein, the US ambassador to the Dominican Republic, told Univision that considering 2.7 million Americans visit the island nation each year, the deaths are "very punctual and unique."
"They come to visit the beautiful beaches and enjoy the great culture," Bernstein said. "Unfortunately, sometimes those things happen to people."
But three other people who have stayed at the resort — one as recently as just over a month ago — told BuzzFeed News they feel very lucky to be alive after suffering severe and mysterious health crises there.
Susie Lauterborn, 38, and her husband, Doug Hand, 40, took a trip to the Grand Bahia Principe in January 2018. But the Philadelphia couple's island getaway quickly turned into a "nightmare," Lauterborn told BuzzFeed News.
Within a day of arriving, she began experiencing severe nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, body aches, fatigue, chills, and cold sweats. A bright-red rash covered her entire body, and she ran a fever above 100 degrees.
"The stabbing pain in my stomach was unlike anything I've experienced before," Lauterborn said. "And I've had an intestinal infection previously in my life and had to go to the hospital for that. This was worse than that."
She went to the hotel medical center, where a staff member prescribed over-the-counter pain and nausea medications before sending her on her way.
"They literally told me I'd partied too much ... but we don't even party," she said.
Lauterborn said that the previous night, she'd had just two alcoholic drinks. Her husband does not drink. But a couple of days into the trip, Hand also became sick with similar, though less severe, symptoms. The couple wanted to leave early, but it would have cost too much money, they said.
"We didn’t leave the room for a couple days, and contemplated heading home early, but changing our flights was painfully expensive, so we waited it out," Hand told BuzzFeed News.
The food and drinks at the resort all tasted not quite right, Lauterborn said.
"Everything there was weirdly, bizarrely off," she said. "The food all tasted off, the drinks all tasted off, to the point where I was like, 'I'm not even going to drink a glass of wine because it just tastes off.'"
She and her husband, who are vegetarians, wound up sticking mostly to bread and water during the trip.
"I can't even explain — we ate pasta one night, and it was so bad I couldn't finish it," she said. "It tasted acidic, like battery acid."
Hand also remembered the air conditioner in their room smelling of mildew.
"I thought it could be the AC [making us sick] because it had a strange, dirty smell," Hand said.
Both of them remained sick for the entire trip and for several days after they returned home. They did not seek medical attention at home because "it takes a lot for either of us to go to a doctor," and their health improved on its own.
"I remember thinking I should go once I was home and still sick about three to four days later, but then I guess we both started to feel better eventually," she said. "It was silly to not go."
Afterward, the couple complained to Apple Vacations, the travel agency through which they booked the trip.
They didn't hear back for three months, and when they finally did, they were denied a refund and instead given $100 each in Apple Vacations vouchers.
The resort is also still being advertised on the travel agency's site.
"In this case, we have been in regular contact with management of the Bahia Principe hotels about its protocols and procedures, as well any findings from the investigations, one of which is still ongoing," an Apple Vacations spokesperson said. "Any decision regarding a change in our relationship with the hotels will not be made until all investigations are complete."
After recently seeing news that a couple had mysteriously died at the same hotel, Lauterborn said she was shocked, frightened, and grateful to be alive.
"I truly believe that the only reason we weren't sicker or didn't have the same outcome that these poor people had is probably because we were a bit younger and healthier," she said.
Now she wants the resort and the travel agency that's advertising it to fully investigate before anyone else gets sick or dies.
"You can sell a $600 four-day vacation in quote-unquote 'paradise' all day ... but then you get there and have a nightmare vacation and no one's doing anything about it," she said.
Myroslav Sparavalo, a 58-year-old in New York, also said he had a medical scare just over a month ago at the Luxury Bahia Principe Bouganville.
Three days into the trip with his wife, he began feeling unwell at dinner. Hours later, he experienced hypertensive crisis, or a severely high increase in blood pressure, which can lead to a stroke.
His blood pressure medication, which he takes regularly, did not help, even when he took double the usual dosage.
Early the next morning, he visited the hotel medical staff, who immediately told him to go to the hospital. Paramedics took him to the hospital in Santo Domingo, where he remained in intensive care for 24 hours.
There, a doctor noted he had "noisy lungs," typical of a smoker, even though Sparavalo does not smoke. The doctor also noted that he had fluid in his lungs.
"Today my wife told me the news about the official investigation of [Holmes' and Day's] deaths. It was pulmonary edema," he said. "The news sent a shiver down my spine."
Sparavalo was released from the hospital and returned to the resort. But every morning, his blood pressure would be elevated.
"I was so scared, I didn't know what to do," he said.
He isn't sure whether his worrying over his condition worsened it, but within three days of his return to New York, his blood pressure returned to healthy levels.
"Looks like I was very lucky to survive," he said. "It's me who could be dead, not just them."
In a statement Friday, Bahia Principe criticized the "dissemination of false information issued publicly, which threatens the image and reputation of the company," although the resort did not specify what reporting it had deemed false. (Some news outlets, including BuzzFeed News, initially incorrectly reported that the deaths occurred at the same hotel, rather than two hotels on the same resort grounds.)
"The safety and comfort of our guests and staff stand at the core of our company values and we work daily to ensure it," the resort added.
A representative who answered the resort's corporate line on Friday said people are "making a fuss about this."
On Monday, a spokesperson for the resort responded to a request for comment saying they handle 7 million tourists a year and that safety is a priority.