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USA TODAY

When Aimee and Luke Moon boarded Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas in February with their 9-month-old, Phoebe, for her first vacation, they couldn’t have imagined the fate that awaited them: a near-death experience and triple amputation for their daughter.

“It was just like a nightmare, you just think it’s not real,” Luke Moon told USA TODAY. “Because nothing was wrong the day before.”

A sick infant daughter later found to have meningococcal meningitis. Five futile infirmary visits. Sixteen hours of agonizing worry. The Moons’ harrowing ordeal shortly after boarding a cruise ship has changed their lives forever and sparked a lawsuit.

“Our thoughts are with the family during this challenging time,” Jonathon Fishman, spokesperson for Royal Caribbean, told USA TODAY. “We do not comment on pending litigation.”

Phoebe Moon eating an ice cream cone. (Photo: The Moon Family)

What happened, according to the family

“Everything was normal, and we did two days on board the ship and … Phoebe became unwell,” Aimee Moon said. “She started vomiting in the middle of the night, and then when we woke up in the morning, she had vomited again, and we can tell she just wasn’t herself.”

They decided to take her to the ship’s infirmary and made several subsequent visits thereafter, but they couldn’t get the help Phoebe needed. Eventually, they had to take their daughter off the ship to a shoreside hospital. 

In a complaint brought by the family against Royal Caribbean alleging various counts of negligence and emotional distress, attorney Thomas Scolaro paints a hellish timeline. Here’s what happened, according to the the family and the lawsuit:

Feb. 22: The ship departed from Miami.

Feb 24, 8:30 a.m.:  Phoebe became ill, presenting with signs of meningococcal meningitis: she was pale, lethargic, dehydrated, feverish and had been vomiting. Her family took her to the infirmary, where she was seen by a doctor who diagnosed her with acute gastroenteritis. The doctor gave the Moons pain medication for their daughter and sent them to quarantine in their cabin.

Feb. 24, 2:18 p.m.: After struggling to keep their daughter conscious, the Moons defied their quarantine order and returned to the infirmary. Phoebe had a temperature of 103.8°. A nurse contacted a different doctor on call, who told the nurse to give the family ibuprofen and to tell them to return to their room.

Feb. 24, 2:30 p.m.: On their way back to their stateroom, Phoebe began “violently vomiting,” and the Moon family returned to the infirmary. They pleaded with the nurse, who called the on-call doctor back. The doctor reiterated that it was a stomach bug and sent them back to quarantine in their room.

Feb. 24, 5 p.m.: Phoebe developed a rash. The Moons went back to the infirmary. The doctor they saw originally was back and informed them that their daughter was cold and told the couple to put socks on her. They were sent back to their cabin.

According to the complaint shared with USA TODAY by Scolaro, Royal Caribbean’s medical records from Phoebe’s fourth infirmary visit included a note from the doctor that Phoebe was “feeling better” and included no mention of her rash.

Feb. 24, 9:02 p.m.: The family returned to the infirmary with Judith, Phoebe’s grandmother and refused to leave. There was no doctor present. 

Feb. 25, 12:24 a.m.: Phoebe’s rash and symptoms had worsened. Judith, convinced her granddaughter had an infection, persuaded the doctor, who returned three hours after their arrival to give Phoebe antibiotics, 16 hours after their first visit.

“Phoebe was very, very sick; anybody could have told that,” Aimee added in an interview.

The family pleaded with the onboard medical team to provide them an air evacuation as Phoebe continued to deteriorate – the infection had essentially begun eating her limbs, according to the complaint.

Their request was refused. Eventually a plan was made to get the Moons off the ship at the next port of call, St. Maarten.

“The hours passed, Phoebe just got worse and worse during the night,” the Moons said in an interview with USA TODAY. “(The doctor) didn’t show us any sympathy, she didn’t show Phoebe any care.”

Feb. 25, 4 a.m.: The doctor on duty noted in a medical form that Phoebe could be infected with meningococcal meningitis, which is a bacterial form of meningitis that can cause severe brain damage and has a 50% mortality rate when left untreated, according to the World Health Organization. 

The infection “should always be treated as a medical emergency” and requires admittance to a hospital, according to the WHO. To treat it, the appropriate antibiotics, including penicillin, ceftriaxone and ampicillin, “must be started as soon as possible.”

“This is a horrific medical negligence case by the onboard physician,” Scolaro said.

Feb. 25, 8:15 a.m.: The Moon family left the ship in St. Maarten after a 45-minute wait from arrival at the port. They were not given medical priority in the disembarkation order.

But even when the family arrived shoreside, they weren’t out of the woods. In St. Maarten, Phoebe was officially diagnosed with meningococcal meningitis, Scolaro said.

“They did IV antibiotics until they got her back to Florida. From there she underwent massive medical care, including dialysis and ultimately limb amputation. Amputations were on both feet and all fingers on (her) left hand,” Scolaro added.

“It was a long time before we knew and before they said that she was going to be OK,” Aimee Moon said. “For weeks they kept saying, ‘She’s very sick, she’s very sick.'”

And the trouble still isn’t over. She has kidney renal disease and will need prosthetics – all of which are costly. 

Phoebe Moon (Photo: The Moon Family)

Some things though, are improving. Aimee Moon explained that Phoebe, who is now nearly one and a half, is slowly learning to adapt. Most children her age have begun to learn to walk, but Phoebe is unable. 

“In the beginning when we came home from the hospital, she was traumatized,” Phoebe’s mom explained. “You couldn’t even put her on the bed without her screaming.”

The Moons hope that through the lawsuit they can raise awareness about the risks of traveling on a cruise with an infant. And they hope that the outcome will include some funding to help care for their daughter, the cost of which will amount to millions, according to Scolaro.

While the family has filed a lawsuit in Florida, it will be an uphill battle to see a win in court. Scolaro said the cruise line is attempting to claim the suit should be brought in the United Kingdom, where the Moons are from as U.K. courts would limit compensation to around $500,000, according to Scolaro.

“This would be one thing if it happened to an adult who can process this,” Scolaro added. “For an infant who wants to do nothing but to walk and run and play, this is just cruel.”

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