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Americans stranded by Norwegian Cruise save elderly passenger, family says: Ship 'left her to die'


Norwegian Cruise Line forced an 80-year-old woman, who suffered a stroke and possible heart attack, to “medically disembark” on an African island and “left her to die,” her family said.

That was on Wednesday, March 27, and the cruise line never called Julie Lenkoff’s emergency contacts and had one conversation with the family between Wednesday and Monday without providing any answers, her family said. 

Coincidentally, two days later, on March 29, six Americans and two Australian passengers were stranded on the same African island of São Tomé by Norwegian Cruise Line after their tour guide-led excursion ran late, and the ship’s captain wouldn’t let them board.

Jay and Jill Campbell, a South Carolina couple, were among the group of eight left behind. “They’re heroes,” Lenkoff’s son-in-law, Kurt Gies, told Fox News Digital. “They saved our mother.”

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Julie Lenkoff in US hospital with her daughter after medical emergency during cruise left her on African island

Julie Lenkoff, 80, (right), is back home in a hospital with her family, including her daughter, Lana (left).  (Facebook)

Authorities on the island told the group that another American was left behind without money or ID, according to Gies. 

That’s when the Campbells found out Lenkoff was in some medical facility, and took it upon themselves to pay medical bills, food, a hotel and connect her with her family, Gies said. 

“It was like our mother didn’t exist,” said Gies, calling the cruise line’s lone statement issued over the weekend “false propaganda that Norwegian Cruise Line is pushing.”

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“The bottom line is Julie Lenkoff was not part of the group of people who were late getting back to the ship,” he said. “They consistently lumped her into the rest of the group as being late to the ship all while not taking any responsibility for her care.

“All they did is send her to a local clinic who completely misdiagnosed her condition, releasing her to fend for herself.”

Julie Lenkoff (right) with her daughter, Lana, at the Hamilton play.

Julie Lenkoff (right) with her daughter, Lana, at the Hamilton play.  (Facebook)

Julie Lenkoff, 80, is pictured here while she was stranded on an African island and on the phone with her family in the US after a South Carolina family took care of her.

Julie Lenkoff, 80, is pictured here while she was stranded on an African island and on the phone with her family in the US after a South Carolina family took care of her. (Jill and Jay Campbell)

“They didn’t need to help her. They’re scared to death, trying to get back to the ship, and they could’ve easily walked away,” Gies said. “Instead, they took on a complete stranger and made sure she was safe.”

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While the Campbells and the six other passengers, including a pregnant Delaware couple, sorted through their own debacle about how to catch up with the ship, they worked with Gies and his wife to get Lenkoff back to the U.S. 

The best of all bad options, Gies said, was a 30-hour flight from São Tomé to Lisbon, Portugal, to Toronto to Stanford Hospital in California “that no one was sure she would even survive.”

Julie Lenkoff smiling before a medical emergency forced her off a Norwegian Cruise on an African island, where she was left behind

Julie Lenkoff smiling before a medical emergency forced her off a Norwegian Cruise on an African island, where she was left behind. (Facebook)

Julie Lenkoff being helped by Jay Campbell walk around the African island of São Tomé.

Julie Lenkoff being helped by Jay Campbell walk around the African island of São Tomé. (Jill and Jay Campbell)

But Lenkoff, described by her family as “the toughest, most independent woman,” made it home and was admitted into the hospital, where she was still in doctors’ care Monday night while Gies spoke to Fox News Digital.

He said she’s doing better, but she couldn’t see while she was in Africa and had trouble with her right side. 

Lenkoff, a visitor to 120 countries who can speak 10 languages, resorted to French while she was in the medical facility on the African island, and they couldn’t understand her and didn’t even know she was an American, Gies said. 

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She was treated and released about 24 hours later, according to Gies, who said that’s when she was “luckily” cared for by the Campbells and the rest of the stranded group of eight.

“SHE IS BACK AND SAFE!!!! Having an EKG right now,” Lenkoff’s daughter, Lana Lenkoff Wilken-Gies, wrote on Facebook shortly after 2 a.m. Monday. “She is definitely much more like her old self! Getting better everyday! Thank you for all of your prayers!”

Julia Lenkoff made to the hospital in California after a 30-hour flight from an African island, where she suffered a medical emergency during a cruise.

Julia Lenkoff made it to the hospital in California after a 30-hour flight from an African island, where she suffered a medical emergency during a cruise. (Facebook)

Julie Lenkoff's daughter, Lana, who's pictured with her loving husband Kurt, spent the entire weekend trying to get their beloved matriarch home alive.

Julie Lenkoff’s daughter, Lana, who’s pictured with her husband Kurt, spent the entire weekend trying to get their beloved matriarch home alive.  (Facebook)

Lana and Kurt’s “relaxing” Easter trip to enjoy the California sun was interrupted by the cruise debacle and days of radio silence. 

Even the company’s original weekend statement to news outlets about the stranded eight made no mention of Lenkoff’s situation. 

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“They (Norwegian Cruise Line) originally said, ‘Sorry. There’s nothing we can do,’ and that was it,” Gies said when they first made contact with the cruise line. 

“They had no answers to what happened, why her emergency contacts weren’t called, who’s taking care of her, where she is.”

Julie Lenkoff (far right) pictured with her family.

Julie Lenkoff (far right) pictured with her family.  (Facebook)

The only ones who cared were the Campbells, said Gies, who called them “heroes.”

“This whole situation, we saw the two sides of humanity. Jill and Jay saved our mom when they didn’t have to. But a mega-corporation with all the funds to help our mom and bring her home did nothing. They couldn’t even give us answers.”

Lenkoff had a goal of seeing 130 countries, and saved up for this $20,000 trip before COVID shut down travel. 

“She was so excited about this,” he said. “She lives to travel, but this is it. It was her last trip.”

Julie Lenkoff (middle) with her daughter (left) and granddaughter (right)

Julie Lenkoff (middle) with her daughter (left) and granddaughter (right). (Facebook)

Norwegian Cruise Line’s response to Lenkoff

Gies and his wife were furious when Norwegian Cruise Line did not acknowledge Lenkoff for days.

Norwegian Cruise Line released a statement over the weekend that said they left the Campbells, a pregnant Delaware woman and her husband, and four other passengers because they returned late from their excursion. 

Norwegian Gateway cruise ship

The Norwegian Gateway cruise ship is moored at PortMiami on Jan. 7, 2022 in Miami, Florida. The cruise line allegedly stranded passengers on a trip to Africa in March 2024. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Even though the ship was still on the island and the island’s Coast Guard brought the passengers to the ship, it’s technically Norwegian Cruise Line’s right to deny them entry to keep the three-week trip on time.

But that statement, included below, never mentioned the 80-year-old woman with a medical emergency that the cruise left behind.

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Fox News Digital received statements early Tuesday morning, 24 hours after asking questions about both situations. 

“During the same sailing, on March 27, 2024, a separate and completely unrelated unfortunate event occurred regarding a guest who was evaluated by our onboard medical team and later thought it best for her to be disembarked to receive further assessment and treatment as needed from a local hospital,” the cruise line said in an email. 

An unnamed, 80-year-old woman “was medically disembarked after being evaluated by our onboard medical team, who thought it best that she receive further assessment and treatment as needed from a local hospital.”

Norwegian cruise ship

A Norwegian Cruise ship is seen on a voyage. (REUTERS/Gary Cameron)

Full statement about Lenkoff’s situation

“Following her disembarkation from the ship, our Care Team was immediately activated to provide support to the guest,” the cruise line said in its statement. 

“We attempted to call the guest several times, and as we were unable to reach her, we worked directly with our port agent in São Tomé and Príncipe, an African island nation, to receive updates about the guest. 

“In instances such as these, as the guest was released from the hospital and in a coherent state, our protocol is to contact the guest directly, as we would not have the authority to share any medical details with anyone else without their expressed consent.

“The guest has since been escorted on a flight to Lisbon, Portugal, and then put in the care of airport staff to continue her journey to the United States, where she has now made a safe return.”

Lana and Kurt Gies, Julie Lenkoff's daughter and son-in-law

Lana and Kurt Gies, Julie Lenkoff’s daughter and son-in-law, are happy to have her home and grateful to Jay and Jill Campbell for taking care of their family member. (Facebook)

Lenkoff’s daughter shares thanks

Lana thanked everyone for their caring posts about her mom. 

“Thank you all for your posts. (Regarding my previous post about my mom),” Lana wrote. “São Tomé is very primitive and doesn’t have hospitals that could treat her properly. She was on a group tour sponsored by the cruise line of a museum and collapsed and was unconscious. 

“How or who was contacted to get her to the limited medical clinic we do not know. We just know that she was left by Norwegian Cruise Line without as much as calling her emergency contacts, or leaving her with her wallet, credit cards, or travel insurance papers at the clinic or maybe a note for her to read when she came to.”

When she finally regained consciousness, Lana said she didn’t remember anything that happened but was helped by “good Samaritans” that they later learned were Jay and Jill Campbell. 

The two couples have been in communication with each other over the last few days. 

Norwegian Cruise Line’s full weekend statement

“While this is a very unfortunate situation, guests are responsible for ensuring they return to the ship at the published time, which is communicated broadly over the ship’s intercom, in the daily communication and posted just before exiting the vessel.

“Guests are responsible for any necessary travel costs to rejoin the ship at the next available port of call. When the guests did not return to the vessel at the all-aboard time, their passports were delivered to the local port agents to retrieve when they returned to the port.

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“Our team has been working closely with the local authorities to understand the requirements and necessary visas needed if the guests were to rejoin the ship at the next available port of call. We are in communication with the guests and providing additional information as it becomes available.”



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