JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Action News Jax Investigator Ben Becker helped a family get the body of a loved one returned after he died while traveling on a cruise around the world.
According to his daughters, Donald Cohen loved living life to its fullest. The Jacksonville man was excited to be on a six-month cruise.
“He was a very vibrant, spry, and together 89-year-old,” said Joanne Cohen and Debbie Abram.
But during a stop in Angola, the trip took a turn for the worse when he collapsed on the ship from an apparent heart problem.
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Cohen said her father was taken to a clinic, discharged, and then taken to a hotel while his insurance companies tried and failed to arrange a medical escort to a more advanced hospital in South Africa. But he never made it. He died all alone in a foreign country.
“We just couldn’t believe it. We, I still can’t believe it, can’t believe it,” Cohen said.
The daughters couldn’t travel to Angola right away because Americans need a visa to enter the country.
“You’ll be looking at a 4–6-week range in many African countries,” said travel expert Susan Pai. She said the delays are because of a backlog of requests and a lack of personnel.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, 40 countries are part of the United States Visa Waiver Program that allows American citizens to travel to and from those countries at any time without a visa for stays up to 90 days. Angola is not on the list.
The sisters reached out to the American Embassy, which said all the right things, but not enough happened.
The U.S. State Department said since 2002, more than 15,000 Americans have died overseas for a variety of reasons, including poor health, crashes, and terrorism.
Pai said wait times are typically listed on an embassy’s website if you need an emergency visa to visit a certain country.
“Expedited requests at embassies are notoriously difficult,” Pai said.
Getting into the country was one problem. Getting Cohen’s body back home was a bigger one until Becker sent an email to someone on the ground in Angola who he thought could help.
“Excuse me, it’s the Rabbi,” said Cohen as she received a call during the interview and excused herself.
It was Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Chekly, the Director of the Chabad of Angola, who arranged for a death certificate to be sent to the U.S. Embassy, allowing Cohen’s body to be put in a casket and finally shipped home.
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The family was able to have a proper burial for their father and now can start the healing process.
“I’m glad I was able to bring you guys together,” Becker said.
“We really appreciate it, we will be forever grateful,” Cohen said.