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Tuesday
Jun042019

Father calls for U.S. probe of daughter, son-in-law's mysterious deaths in Fiji

ABC News(LAS VEGAS) -- The father of a Texas woman who died along with her husband from a mysterious illness while on a dream vacation in Fiji says he wants the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct an independent investigation of the deaths to determine if his loved ones perished from an infectious disease.

Michelle and David Paul died last month just days after arriving in Fiji and being afflicted with an illness that caused them to experience vomiting, diarrhea, extreme weakness and eventually led to their demise, Michelle Paul's father, Mark Calanag of Las Vegas, told ABC News.

Calanag said he has been in contact with the U.S. Embassy in Fiji and learned the autopsies on his daughter and son-in-law have been completed, but he has yet to be informed of the results.

The Fiji Department of Health has agreed to send specimens from the autopsies to the CDC headquarters in Atlanta to analyze, he said.

"I gave them instruction not to do any cremation until I'm satisfied ... because I would like the whole world to know if they died of infectious diseases," Calanag told ABC News. "The CDC can confirm that and tell Americans and other people that these are the issues you're going to face if you have to travel to Fiji. Be aware."

He said his daughter and son-in-law were perfectly healthy when they dropped off their 2-year-old son with Calanag and his wife before embarking on their overseas journey.

Calanag said his daughter was a "world traveler," and wanted to take her husband to Fiji because he hadn't traveled much.

"They are much in love and they just bought a house in Fort Worth. And they were enjoying it and this tragic thing happened," Calanag said.

A State Department official confirmed the couple's deaths in a statement to ABC News on Monday, but could not offer details about how the trip had turned deadly. The department said it is monitoring the on-going local investigation.

A CDC spokeswoman told ABC News on Monday that the agency is helping investigate the deaths.

"Our condolences go out to the family – this is a tragic loss. The Ministry of Health in Fiji has requested CDC assistance and we are working with the government to investigate," said Kristen Nordlund, a CDC spokeswoman.

Five people who came in contact with Michelle and David Paul in Fiji have been admitted to Nadi Hospital in Nadi, Fiji, for observation, the Fiji Sun newspaper reported on Tuesday. Those under medical observation are two security guards, two medical staffers and a police officer who have shown similar symptoms that the American couple experienced, the Sun reported.

Another ten workers at the property in Fiji's Denarau Island where Michelle and David Paul were staying, including a duty manager, porters and housekeepers, have been placed on paid leave, the Sun reported, citing an unnamed source. ABC News has yet to confirm the report.

Calanag said Michelle and David Paul traveled to San Francisco on May 19 and spent one night there before going to Los Angeles the following day to catch their flight to Fiji. He said he believes the couple reached the South Pacific archipelago of more than 300 islands on May 21.

He said that soon after they arrived in Fiji, his daughter sent him a message via WhatsApp, complaining of contracting a violent illness.

"They were experiencing vomiting, both of them, and diarrhea," Calanag said. "And then the last text I got from my daughter was that her hands were numb."

He said the numbness in his daughter's hands, according to doctors he has spoken to, suggests that she was severely dehydrated.

He said his brother, who is an Army doctor, reached the couple by phone to find out more information about their health.

Calanag said his daughter died on May 25, and that his son-in-law perished a soon after.

He said he was able to speak to his son-in-law by phone but never got a chance to speak with his daughter before she died.

He said his David Paul was in a separate hospital from his wife. He said his son-in-law was released after being examined and went back to his hotel.

"Then, later on, I don't know how much time, he was back in the hospital and from there on it became more serious," Calanag said.

He said doctors had been planning to evacuate him to a medical facility in Australia, but were concerned that he was too weak to make the nearly 3,000-mile trip.

"His condition deteriorated very fast," Calanag said.

He said the U.S. Embassy in Fiji told him that they will send him the death certificates and autopsy reports on the couple as soon as they receive them.

Calanag said he was also told that in order to fly the bodies back to the United States, his daughter and son-in-laws' remains would have be shipped in hermetically sealed containers because of the possibility they died from an infectious disease.

"I assume on the death certificates the reason they died is there, but I'm not confident of getting the information only from Fiji," Calanag said. "I'd really like to have the U.S., especially the CDC to confirm it because they are the experts."

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