The daughter of a Scarborough man who died at a Cuban resort says she wants to know why an ambulance crew left her father's body on the beach for four hours and is questioning the medical attention lifeguards gave him.
Sellviya Nicholas Anton last saw her father, Elvin, alive on the morning of Aug. 25, while the pair pushed themselves through a gruelling pool aerobics class. It was his second day at Memories Varadero, at what was a reunion of sorts with his wife, his children and two dozen members of their family.
Within an hour, Sellviya Nicholas Anton was called to the beach to find lifeguards standing over her father. An ambulance would not arrive until about 30 minutes after another Scarborough family pulled the unresponsive 62-year-old man from the water, his daughter said.
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"It's not like [you] call 911 and they're there within five minutes," Sellviya Nicholas Anton said. "The waiting was just so frustrating for me... as I'm watching my own father die in front of my eyes."
It's unclear why the ambulance took so long to arrive, although Sellviya Nicholas Anton said she was told by Canadian consular officials that only two ambulance vans service the resort town.
A doctor who accompanied the ambulance spent just a few moments with the elder Nicholas Anton, his daughter said. The doctor declared the Scarborough man dead and then prepared to leave, several witnesses told CBC News.
"She came in, looked at my Dad and threw a towel over his head," Sellviya Nicholas Anton said. "Then she walked off."
And although some of the 24 family members gathered on the beach asked the ambulance to take Elvin Nicholas Anton to hospital, they refused, his daughter and a family friend, Preamini Geevaharan, told CBC News. The ambulance told them to wait for police, leaving the body to lie in the scorching Cuban sun for four hours.
"They just left him on the ground, on the sand," Sellviya Nicholas Anton said. "My family had to physically pick him up and put him on a [lawn chair] from a Toronto tourist."
The police moved her father into the first floor of the hotel where officials from Havana eventually removed her father, Sellviya Nicholas Anton said. It cost the family $8,500 to embalm the body and have it flown back to Canada.
"My Dad's body didn't [arrive] in Toronto until the 10th day so he was decaying like crazy," she said. "I'm just happy that he's buried now.
The family has not yet received the formal cause of Elvin Nicholas Anton's death, his daughter said. They do have a preliminary report saying he died of a heart attack, but Sellviya Nicholas Anton said her mother has been told she may have to wait up to nine months for autopsy results.
She said she believes her father could have been revived if he had received immediate medical attention, questioning whether the lifeguards received training. The Geevaharan family told Sellviya Nicholas Anton that her father still had a pulse when they pulled him ashore.
No sign of lifeguards
Preamini Geevaharan and her parents were swimming nearby when Elvin Nicholas Anton bumped into them in the water and was unresponsive. She said she looked down the beach, but saw no sign of a lifeguard.
"In a matter of seconds I went from paradise to hell." - Sellviya Nicholas Anton, daughter of Elvin
"Someone had to run to go get [them]," the Scarborough woman told CBC News.
When the lifeguards arrived, a Canadian nurse visiting the resort said they seemed to be performing CPR incorrectly, Lizzie Tupizin, another witness, said.
Both Geevaharan and Tupizin said the vacationing nurse intervened and took over CPR.
Blue Diamond Resorts, Memories Varadero's parent company, said in a statement that the staff who responded to the emergency did all they could to revive Nicholas Anton. The lifeguards on the beach are approved by the Red Cross and appointed through the government, the statement said.
Sellviya Nicholas Anton said she has not followed up with the resort since returning home to find out what sort of emergency planning they have in place.
Family wants to warn others
The Scarborough man's family, however, said they hope other tourists will look into how a resort prepares its staff for emergencies and what sort of training they provide before going on vacation.
Other travellers should specifically ask about whether resorts keep a doctor or nurse on staff and how long it would take to transport someone to hospital in an emergency, Sellviya Nicholas Anton said.
"They don't emphasize this in their vacation packages or in their brochures," she said. "They just emphasize the beautiful trees and the water.
"You think you're stepping into paradise... but in a matter of seconds I went from paradise to hell."