Tour operator leaves Mumbai family in lurch in Sweden
After leading lawyer's son suffers serious spine fractures, family left to fend for itself by leading travel company after spending lakhs
"Please allow me euthanasia," says 27-year-old Mithil Sampat lying on a hospital bed in Stockholm. The practising lawyer, who was on a Scandinavian trip with his parents to celebrate their 34th wedding anniversary, is living his worst nightmare at Karolinska University Hospital after he met with an accident on June 21 while sightseeing. What is worse is that the travel company through which they booked the tour is reluctant to help them at this difficult hour.
Mithil along with his parents — Vinod Sampat and Hina Sampat — went on the trip on June 18, and it was to continue till July 4. The lawyer parents were to celebrate their wedding anniversary on June 21.
According to the Sampats, they were part of the 40 people group (mostly from Ghatkopar) who had booked the tour through Royal Tours/Young Jain Group, who had done the bulk booking through SOTC Travel Ltd. A payment of R2.60 lakh per person was made for the 20-day tour.
The Sampats did not have a pleasant experience since the start of the tour. They had the worst cruise experience and even the tour guide did not give then enough time for shopping and sightseeing, a grievance which he had shared with SOTC through email.
'I have never felt so helpless in my life. I appeal to one and all to not travel with tour operators like SOTC, who are just money-minded and have no sense of responsibility. I will take up the matter separately with the competent authorities on my return," said Sampat.
According to him, on June 21, Mithil did not join them for the sightseeing planned by the tour operators. He said, "Mithil decided to go out on his own. He was supposed to meet his parents back in the hotel in the evening. But when we returned around 8pm, we were shocked to be informed by the hotel staff that Mithil had been hospitalised."
"We learnt that Mithil had sustained serious spinal injuries and was in severe pain. They told us that he fell from a tree at a nature park and injured himself." "We were told that a passerby spotted him and called the emergency medical services, who shifted Mithil to the hospital."
Sampat further said, "Mithil sustained injuries to the L1 and L2 levels of his spinal cord for which he needs supra major surgical intervention. A team of neurosurgeons started the procedure on Saturday and inserted plates for support. The operation lasted for almost 11 hours. Post the surgery he was shifted to the post-operative care room. He will be shifted to the physiotheraphy ward soon."
And on recovery, Sampat said, "He will have to be in the hospital for the next few days, and might have to be in complete bed-rest for six months to a year." The family is contemplating the options of flying Mithil back to Mumbai in an air ambulance, but there has been no cooperation from either the insurance company or the tour operators, who according to Sampat have left them in the lurch in a foreign country.
"The SOTC tour operators just washed off their hands from the matter. I will never forgive them in my life. Money is secondary. The least they could have done was send a representative but they are so insensitive," said Sampat. He said that some of the Indians in Sweden were helping him to finish the hospital paper work and get the insurance company to coordinate with the hospital. "The hospital bills have already crossed R30 lakh. We have found out that the special air ambulance charges from Sweden to Mumbai will be another R40 lakh. The hospital bills are likely to go up further," he added.
When contacted, Dilip Modi of Royal Tours rubbished the allegations against SOTC stating, "The Sampats expect us to arrange for a representative to be stationed at the hospital, which is practically not possible. Also, SOTC had provided travel insurance of $50,000 to each traveler. The Sampats took another insurance even though I explained to them that they would not be able to avail both. We sympathise with the family and have assured them all cooperation for rescheduling their air tickets and hotel accommodation, but they haven't reverted. We are still providing assistance to the family to get the insurance formalities completed, provided they decide which company they want to opt for." Meanwhile, attempts made to contact Senior General Manager (SOTC Travel Ltd) Urvi Zaveri did not yield results.
Rs 40 lakh
Amount required for booking an air ambulance
In an email to the SOTC customer care on June 26, Sampat wrote, "You have left us on our own in a foreign country and proceeded with the tour. You should have provided assistance in the form of coordination, reimbursement, accommodation and medical support. A representative of yours should have accompanied us 24x7. Mithil is suffering immensely. He may have to be airlifted. I request you to coordinate with the authorities concerned and ensure that I do not have to bear medical and travel expenses. Please tell your representative to do the needful."
In response SOTC said, "We are in receipt of your mail regarding the hospitalisation of your son, which was very unfortunate. We wish to inform you that for any kind of insurance-related query the insurer needs to co-ordinate with the insurance company. With regards to hospitalisation and other medical expenses, the same are governed by the insurance contract. With regards to the 24/7 assistance we can request our supplier to provide you with it as per the laws applicable in Stockholm, and the agent will inform you regarding the charges applicable, which needs to be borne by you. On returning post the incident of your son being hospitalised, our tour manager did assist you with formalities and provided information for your hotel stay/embassy details and guided you accordingly. Our tour manager accompanied you and your wife to the hospital and was with your family right through the night. However, you will appreciate that the rest of the group members had to proceed to the next location as per the itinerary and our tour manager had to accompany them. We wish Mithil a speedy recovery and safe return back home."
Dr Shradha Maheshwari, consulting neurosurgeon said, "Usually if the bony elements are injured in L1 and L2 level then the chances of improvement post surgery is always high, though the lower limb moments might get impacted adversely. However, if the spinal cord is injured the recovery may be a prolonged and at times injury to the spinal cord can lead to unbearable pain which add to the morbidity of the patients and recovery is slow and painful."
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