Don Bryce – Heart Failure, MS Rotterdam Passenger of Holland America Line

Don Bryce – Heart Failure, MS Rotterdam Passenger, article added September 19, 2007, Time of Death 5:40.  (This is a visitor’s submission)

Time of Cruise Ship Death

When Don Bryce and his wife Marlene from Washington took a cruise aboard Holland America Line’s MS Rotterdam in the summer of 2007, they never dreamed only one of them would be coming back home alive.

The aging Rotterdam, launched in 1997, a rather small ship, would be home to about 1,300 passengers and about 600 crew for two weeks while they sailed into major European cities. This is a light load for a cruise ship doctor, and as such, would normally indicate a more personalize service from the medical staff. The Bryce’s booked their MS Rotterdam cruise to celebrate Don’s retirement, after 53 years of marriage.

Arriving aboard the MS Rotterdam, the couple unloaded their luggage into cabin D2629 and began the trip of their dreams. Cabin D2629 is a large, outside stateroom on the Main Deck, right near the elevators. Twelve days later, Don would be dead, and Marlene would be left to fend for herself aboard the Rotterdam. Holland America Line boasts that they are leader in cruise ship medical care.

This is worth noting, because if they are the leader, the best there is, one can only imagine what the worst is like. On this cruise the ship’s doctor, an independent contractor, was doctor Mark Gibson. He and his staff of nurses were responsible for caring for the passengers aboard MS Rotterdam. Though Mr Bryce became critically ill, once they quarantined him to their cabin, they never again gave him any suitable medical treatment, nor considered him for a medical evacuation to get emergency care. Instead, they left him in his cabin to die. Missing in the medical care was treatment for dehydration and the monitoring of vital signs, the two main staples of emergency care.

Don’s symptoms began with vomiting and weakness, along with a severe cough by the second day. These were signs that a potential Norovirus had infected Don’s body, but he was not quarantined. Instead, Don went back to his cabin on bed rest, with some medicine given to him by the doctor.

While in 2007, Holland America Line ships were racking up Norovirus cases by the hundreds on numerous HAL ships, there are no traceable cases of Norovirus for the MS Rotterdam since early in January of 2007. The are various dangers related to Norovirus and the elderly, the primary complications being dehydration from the constant vomiting and diarrhea and internal bleeding. After suffering with the symptoms for three days, Don Bryce took a turn for the worse, and this is where the medical team aboard the MS Rotterdam failed the family. At 0510 hours, Mrs Bryce called for a nurse to come see her husband. He had been feeling much worse and was now having diarrhea so she had become extremely concerned. Though the nurse arrived, she didn’t take Don’s vital signs, only taking his temperature. She left the couple with more medicine for the Norovirus symptoms.

The nurse told the couple that Don was now quarantined, and he had to stay in their cabin, not to leave, and if they did, they would be removed from the ship at the next port of call. The penalty of disobedience of doctor’s orders were severe, and the couple took them seriously. Six hours later, before lunch time, Marlene said Don had become much worse. He was coughing near constantly, was weak, and seemed confused. Marlene called the doctor again. After describing Don’s state of health at that time to the doctor, Gibson, without actually seeing Don, ordered some Claritin for the congestion symptoms. The doctor did not come to see Mr. Bryce, nor did he send a nurse to check on him and monitor his vital signs.

Two passengers aboard the ship, whom the couple had met while aboard, confirm that Don had begun to get much worst and was very weak. By 1730 hours, Don had become so ill, Marlene left her cabin to go see the doctor and ask him to come see her husband in their cabin. The doctor refused to come see Don, because he was closing the clinic in 30 minutes and instead told her that he would see Don the next morning at 0800 hours, over 14 hours away. Had the doctor seen Don then, took his vital signs, listened to his chest, and had him evacuated off the ship at that time, Don might be alive today. Instead, without the care of a doctor for another 11 and half hours, Don was left in his cabin to die.

Marlene says that the medical records made no sense. Don was so ill, Marlene left the cabin to see the doctor at the clinic, and beg him to come her husband and yet the doctor’s records say that Don was “improving energy, appetite…. is taking fluids”. She said that she wouldn’t have gone to talk to the doctor just to say Don was doing better. At 0200 hours on the fourth day of Don’s illness, six hours before the doctor would be back on duty, and would bother to see Don, he took another turn for the worse. Don’s skin was turning a dark color, a potential sign of impaired oxygen. His heart was likely failing at that point in time.

Marlene calls the nurse again, and she refuses to come see Don. She instead tells Marlene to give Don some food and water. By 0440 hours on September 2, 2007, Marlene calls the nurse again and insists that someone must come to the cabin. Don’s skin is cold to the touch and it has become very darkly colored. Clearly, Don is near death. Ten minutes later, the nurse arrives and calls the doctor ten minutes after that. The doctor takes another 35 minutes to arrive at the Bryces’ cabin. But, it is now too late. Don passes away two minutes before the doctor could be bothered to see his patient.

The autopsy report says Don Bryce died of a heart attack, and also notes he had pneumonia. The Bryce family believes dehydration triggered Don’s heart attack. They question why he was never given IV Fluids, especially since he had a history of heart trouble and wore a pacemaker — something duly noted on the ship’s medical charts.

Holland America Line denies Don Bryce was given poor medical care and stands by their medical team.