New Jersey autistic teen and his mom could not get home from Aruba for 3 weeks

·7 min read

What was supposed to be a one-week family vacation to Aruba turned into a three-week ordeal for one New Jersey mom and her teenage son.

Fortunately, there's a happy ending to the story — and some amazing kindness — but some hard times came this family's way first.

Jamie Greene, along with her boyfriend and three children, traveled to the Caribbean island of Aruba recently for vacation.

But when Greene’s son, Elijah, 15, who has low-functioning autism, had an episode as he boarded the flight home — the family alleges that their airline would not fly with them on board. And that was only the beginning of their nightmare.

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Greene explained to Fox News Digital that she felt options for getting herself and her son home ran out fast.

Yet thanks to a Facebook post and the kindness of others — Greene, Elijah and the rest of the family are today back together at their Toms River, New Jersey, home.

Young Elijah had flown before this — and the flight out to Aruba was fine, the mom indicated to Fox News Digital in a telephone interview on Thursday, June 9.

"We did have his medications on hand just in case, but there was never an indication something like this would happen," said Jamie Greene.

Yet while "getting onto the plane coming home, he got nervous and he just started screaming ‘toilet' — which is where he wanted to go because it is a safe space for him," she explained.

Her son was "not aggressive," Greene said. The family "just kept bringing him back and forth to the bathroom" while other people were boarding and getting settled in their seats.

But once it came time for the plane to take off, "that's when he started to get scared," she said. "He was screaming ‘toilet’ and kept wanting to get up."

She said that "that’s when the airline flight attendant said the pilot was going to taxi back."

The mom said she agreed with that decision.

"We understood why" the flight crew had to do this, she said.

"So we got off [the plane] and apologized to the plane [personnel] — we didn’t want to make a scene. We got off and we just assumed there would be help from somewhere — but there wasn’t," she said.

Greene said that after disembarking from the United Airlines flight, they decided to travel to the emergency room of a local hospital in Aruba "to get heavier medication for him. But we apparently couldn’t take a sedated person on a plane," she said.

"Legally, [travelers] have to be able to walk themselves [onto] the plane and sit in the seat themselves — [but] Elijah needed to be fully sedated to be able to fly."

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She added, "So we couldn’t fly back on another commercial airline."

Five different airlines, Fox News Digital learned, apparently offer flights from Aruba to the New York area.

United Airlines, in a statement to Fox News Digital, said, "Safety is our number-one priority and in this instance, since we fly daily out of Aruba, we worked to find and offer alternative United flights that same week to the customers who were impacted."

The family said they reached out to "the U.S. embassy, consulate, other cruise lines, air ambulances to fly us to Miami — at that point, we were eliminating options," mom Jamie Greene said.

She said that a lot of the cruise lines "were not allowed to pick us up in a foreign port."

The U.S. consulate was "helpful," she said.

Greene said the family wound up "paying an air ambulance $33,000 to take us back — and it took them three days to come back to us [and say that they] decided they couldn’t take us back home. We did get all our money back," she said.

But at that moment, "it was hard to hear," she said — "and [Elijah] was just scared. He is not violent and this behavior has never happened before."

Greene added, "To hear that a child with low-functioning autism was the reason we couldn’t fly was hard to hear … After that was when we posted [our] situation on Facebook," she said.

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"We were stuck there [for] weeks — and thank God that post got to the right people who were able to help get us home."

KultureCity — a charitable organization that is "the nation's leading nonprofit on sensory accessibility," according to its website — is "pretty much an organization that promotes autism awareness," said Jamie Greene.

"They got on the phone with Carnival [Cruises] — who said they’d pick us up free of charge and was so good to us."

Added Greene, "My brother had flown to Aruba for support earlier and Carnival also sailed him back. At that point, my family had already gone home because my two other [younger] kids needed to go back to school and also needed some normalcy."

Greene went on, "To describe my feelings at the time, I don’t think ‘hopeless’ is a strong enough word. The options I thought we had were all running out. All I kept doing was looking at was how beautiful my son was and not knowing what to do. It was definitely the worst experience of my life."

She also said, "When we were asked to leave the plane, we went online to find the cheapest place to stay … Food for five people, renting a car — it adds up so quickly. We had to change hotels three times."

Greene said that, amid her extended and unplanned stay in Aruba, there were "days [when] we were thinking, ‘Are we going to have to move to Aruba?'"

She said there "many days" of upset, of "panic and sobbing. If not for my family, I don’t know where we’d be — just getting that support and reassurance from them."

She also told Fox News Digital, "It is hard to put into words what I was feeling. I was panicked and sad. It was unbearable and heartbreaking — but then you get this beautiful community of strangers that wanted to help."

"They are my forever family," she said. "And I got a lot of comments showing support and saying, ‘I could be where you are,' or ‘I’ve been there.'"

Greene said that her son has flown on other trips in the past — "and we had his medication, his tablet, iPad, crayons and coloring book. We were prepared. We just didn’t think it would happen."

She said, "You think you have all your ducks in a row and then autism says, ‘No, you don’t.’ I just don’t know what else we could’ve done."

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Right now, said Greene, the family has no plans to fly again any time soon.

"But I am not going to let that stop me from taking him places," she added. "He deserves to be out and about in the community." For now, she said, "we will likely do vacations closer to home or drive somewhere."

"It is unfortunate that it happened, and I am just grateful for the people that helped us. Carnival has a loyal customer for life in us."

She said, "When we got home and I saw my other two kids, those were the best hugs I’ve received in my life. Stepping foot onto my front yard was the best feeling."

"I still have that panic in the back of my head — but it feels good knowing that strangers stepped up in ways that people could only dream about — and that makes it feel even better."

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In a statement to Fox News Digital, Carnival Cruise Line shared this comment: "Given Carnival’s close partnership with nonprofit KultureCity, our team has a deep understanding of the needs of individuals with sensory and invisible disabilities. When the organization contacted us about Elijah’s situation and we realized we could bring him back to the United States on one of our ships, we did not hesitate to offer help."

Added Vicky Rey, vice president of guest care at Carnival Cruise Line, "At Carnival, we work daily to make a difference in people’s lives, and we are proud to have been able to extend those efforts to assist Jamie and Elijah."

The family boarded Carnival Horizon on May 31 in Aruba during its scheduled port of call visit — and they arrived in Miami last Sunday. From there, they were driven home to N.J.

Carnival was the first cruise line operator to be certified "sensory inclusive" by KultureCity in late 2019.