Megan Sheehan and her siblings say they did their best to talk their father out of boarding a cruise ship in Florida earlier this month.
But Tom Sheehan – described as “stubborn as a goat” by his son, Kevin – wouldn’t listen.
Tom and his wife, Jill, boarded the Costa Lumiosa in Fort Lauderdale with another couple on March 5, joining about 1,400 others on board. Little did they know that at least one passenger on the ship was infected with COVID-19, and over the course of the next few weeks, many others aboard would also become sick.
For Tom, the decision to board the cruise ultimately cost him his life.
An ill-fated journey
Megan Sheehan lives in Grand Haven, nearly 1,300 miles from her father, who was living in Bradenton Beach, Florida. Megan’s pleadings with her father to skip the cruise – with planned stops in Italy, Antigua, Puerto Rico, Spain, the Canary Islands and France – were shrugged off.
“Me and my brothers begged him not to go,” she said. “I’m not sure why he decided to go. That was his take – it’s still over there and I’m going to be fine. Plus, the cruise line had taken Italy off its list of stops, so he figured they’re not going anywhere that it’s bad.”
To Tom’s defense, this was prior to the coronavirus putting the United States on lockdown. Major outbreaks were limited to China and Italy, with a few cases starting to pop up in the U.S.
The next day, March 6, Vice President Mike Pence announced that 21 people aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship, which was being held off the coast of California, had tested positive for the virus.
By that time, it was too late for Tom and Jill. They were already aboard their cruise, which made its first stop two days later in Puerto Rico. An Italian woman was removed from the ship during the stop after exhibiting symptoms of the virus, according to a New York Times article. Tom said he wouldn’t have reboarded the ship had he known.
“They were never able to get off the boat after that first stop,” Megan said. “They gave everyone the full roam of the boat, but they couldn’t get off. When they got to Spain, they unloaded a sick passenger, but they wouldn’t let anybody off the boat.”
Living a nightmare
What was supposed to be a 10-day cruise turned into an 14-day nightmare for those onboard. Passengers were quarantined to their rooms for the final five days. They took to social media to share their stories with loved ones.
“My dad was begging and pleading for help,” Megan said. “They had put posts on Facebook for help – ‘Help us get off this ship.’ He was sending messages to me and my brothers asking for help.”
Other passengers created a Facebook page, “Costa Luminosa Update for Passengers,” which has hundreds of posts from those aboard the ship, and their family members. The page continues to have active conversations today as some of the passengers still haven’t found their way home.
According to reports, the ship was eventually allowed to dock in Marseille, France, and passengers were allowed off the ship on March 19. Once they left the ship, the American passengers were packed into buses and spent much of the day confined to them before being driven to the airport and boarding a red-eye flight to Atlanta, Georgia, where they arrived the next morning.
There’s no place like home
Sheehan said the passengers, many of whom were tested before leaving France but not given results, were not quarantined once they reached Atlanta.
“We were thinking, as soon as he got in, the CDC’s gonna quarantine them because so many people are sick, but that didn’t happen,” Kevin Sheehan said in an interview with the Tallahassee Democrat. “My wife and I were shocked.”
A day later, Tom – who suffered from asthma, COPD and diabetes – was stricken with the virus.
“On Saturday, my dad was rushed to the hospital because he could not breath,” Meghan said.
He wasn’t alone. Nearly 80 of the 300 passengers who returned to the United States have tested positive for COVID-19, according to statistics Megan provided. Four of them, including Tom, have died.
Megan, fighting back tears, recounted the final days of her dad’s life.
“He never left the hospital,” she said. “They tried to get him stable, and on Sunday, March 22, they told us they had his COVID stable. Mind you, nobody can visit. The nurses have to completely suit up to go into the rooms, so their contact with the patients is limited, too.
“We got updates twice a day,” she continued. “My dad’s phone died that Sunday, and before we could have someone bring him up a charger, on Sunday, he went into a coma. He never recovered. ... The nurses, bless their souls, at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, brought in an iPad so that me, my brothers and my cousins could say goodbye this past Friday.”
Megan said her father loved life, loved his family and had a strong Irish pride. He was 68 when he died March 29.
“He died alone, 100 percent alone. He suffered alone,” Megan said. “It’s a very lonely virus. My stepmom sat at home, quarantined, very sick (she also contracted the virus), and had to make the call to take him off the ventilator.”
Sharing the story is heartbreaking for Megan, but she wants to make sure everyone realizes just how real the current situation is.
“Stay home,” she said. “This is so fast-acting and lonely. … I’m a single mom. My biggest fear is if I were to get it, who would take care of my boys? Maybe I’m overthinking it, but I just had the unthinkable happen to me.”
Her final message is a chilling one.
“Thank God, the best part of my dad being in a coma is that he doesn’t know he died alone,” she said.