x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Dying wife's fight for repatriation fee from UAE

As expat family struggled with news that mum-of three had terminal cancer, they faced a tough battle with employer and health insurance over flying out of Abu Dhabi.

Chantelle and Peter Campbell with their children, Archie, 3, and twins George and Abi. The family lived in Abu Dhabi but returned to Mr Campbell's native Scotland after his wife became terminally ill. Courtesy Campbell family
Chantelle and Peter Campbell with their children, Archie, 3, and twins George and Abi. The family lived in Abu Dhabi but returned to Mr Campbell's native Scotland after his wife became terminally ill. Courtesy Campbell family

Peter Campbell looks at the picture on his phone – his wife, her hair cut short due to chemotherapy, surrounded by their three children.

Five months after he took that photo in their garden in Abu Dhabi, 36-year-old Chantelle died at a hospice in Scotland, surrounded by her family and friends.

The mother of three was told she had breast cancer last year and it was being fought with chemotherapy. But during the summer doctors diagnosed leptomeningeal carcinomatosis, a condition that affects a small percentage of cancer patients.

After being told it was terminal, the family prepared to move back to Britain as swiftly as possible.

But they were shocked to discover that the repatriation costs for Chantelle, an air-traffic controller, were not covered by Mr Campbell’s work and health insurance policies.

“The senior consultant came in one day and said she was terminal. At which point I said, I’ve got to get her out of here,” said Mr Campbell, 46, a training design consultant who returned to Abu Dhabi recently to say goodbye to friends.

“I contacted work and, because my contract was changing from one company to a government body on July 31, I said I would let my contract end and invoke my repatriation to the UK.

“They then went to the legal people, came back and said they were not liable for repatriation of a medical case. I was flabbergasted.”

The cost of an emergency medical evacuation plane – sometimes referred to as a medevac craft – can be hundreds of thousands of dirhams.

With three young children – Archie, 3, and 16-month-old twins Abi and George, the family could not afford to cover the cost themselves.

After speaking with Daman, Mr Campbell received the same response as before – they would not cover the cost.

“It was clearly stated, within my [work] contract, that we should be repatriated,” Mr Campbell said. “If they said they didn’t cover medical repatriation ... but it’s a grey area and I was caught by it.”

With the help of Abu Dhabi’s Mafraq Hospital, where British-born Chantelle was being treated, the family secured the services of a nurse and organised transport.

“The Mafraq Hospital charge nurse was very helpful,” Mr Campbell said. “The CEO agreed to pay for the cost of the nurse to travel with me.”

In the end, the chairman of the umbrella company that owned both companies that employed Mr Campbell and his wife covered the costs of her travel. Flying with Emirates, Chantelle and her stretcher, which took up the equivalent of six seats, her husband, their eldest child and the nurse made their way to Scotland.

“I’m thankful to the company for paying but it was another five days of stress before they actually gave me the OK,” he said.

The family’s situation has been a cause of concern for their friends in the Emirates.

“A lot of people are affected by what has happened and it’s highlighted to a lot of them how you may not be as well covered as you think you are,” Mr Campbell said.

Several weeks after he moved his wife close to his childhood home in Perth, Scotland, her condition deteriorated. “Chantelle died on August 17. She was good up until the 11th. We watched the closing of the Olympics together,” Mr Campbell said.

“She was beautiful to the end. It was just over the last four days that it was tough but I had the kids in on the Tuesday [before she died].”

The family will settle in Scotland but Mr Campbell hopes no other expatriates faced with sending a sick relative home suffer.

“I’d hate to think somebody else had to go through the bureaucracy when something might be done about it,” he said.

“If I’ve got the chance to make things better for someone else, I will. I’ve gone through a hellish time in the past months.”

zalhassani@thenational.ae