x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

UAE fear-of-flying boy's anxiety disorder so deep it prevents all travel

Joe Thompson, 11, has now been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder that goes much further than a fear of flying and has left him unable to travel by any means - and unable to leave the Emirates.

Joe Thompson,11, who recently came down with a debilitating fear of flying and has been unable to leave the UAE.
Joe Thompson,11, who recently came down with a debilitating fear of flying and has been unable to leave the UAE.

LONDON // Plans to take a schoolboy home overland to the UK because he has a chronic fear of flying have had to be abandoned because he now cannot travel by any means.

Joe Thompson, 11, remains stranded in the UAE with his father Tony while he receives treatment for his condition in Dubai.

The latest setback has left the family thousands of miles apart, as Joe’s mother, Pauline, and sister, Chloe, 16, have already returned to the UK.

On Monday, 51 days after Joe first tried unsuccessfully to board a plane home at Abu Dhabi, the Thompsons made a final attempt to return home.

“Sadly it did not work,” said Mr Thompson. “I have now abandoned all hope of getting Joe home, at least for the time being, while I get him medical help over here.”

The family intended to move back to their home town of Weston-super-Mare in Somerset on July 1 after having lived in Al Ain for several years. However, Joe has now been found to have an anxiety disorder that goes much further than a fear of flying and has left him unable to travel at all.

Mr Thompson, a crisis management expert who once worked for former UK deputy prime minister John Prescott, is seeking work and hopes rugby-mad Joe will be able to return to his old school in Al Ain.

“My focus is now on trying to get work here and calming Joe down with school and rugby in the UAE,” he said.

“The consequences are that Pauline will remain in the UK where she is now working to support us over here, and Joe and I will make a renewed start in the UAE.”

Volkswagen Middle East had offered to take Mr Thompson and his son overland via Egypt to Europe, but withdrew the offer because of what it described as the worsening security situation in Egypt.

Mr Thompson then received an offer from the marine insurer Willis of berths on a bulk carrier that was due to stop off at Suez this week. He lined up a driver to take them across Saudi Arabia to the Red Sea port of Duba, from where they would be able to catch a ferry to Egypt and board the vessel at Suez.

“Joe was aware of all the arrangements and seemed happy with them,” said Mr Thompson. “But in the evening he developed a major anxiety attack and said he could not travel anywhere.

“In the morning Joe had another massive panic attack, he hyperventilated and lost the use of one of his hands as the blood supply was diverted to his breathing, and said he could not face the long journey. I had to cancel it and seek medical advice.”

It was then that Joe’s anxiety disorder was diagnosed. Monday’s final attempt to leave was to involve flying to Frankfurt with Joe under sedation and accompanied by a doctor.

“When I made Joe aware of the final grand plan to take him by air he had another huge anxiety attack and I had to cancel all the arrangements.

“At this point I realised it was time to stop putting him through all the anguish and to seek longer-term medical intervention in the UAE. That means we have to stay here until he is capable of travelling out of the country.”

Mr Thompson hopes Joe will return to Al Ain English Speaking School on September 4 – the day he was due to start at a new school in the UK.

“Joe is fine in himself, although disappointed that he will be separated from his mother for an indeterminate period.”

csimpson@thenational.ae