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American Samoan baby dies in Honolulu airport

Last updated February 12, 2008 7:50 p.m. PT


HONOLULU — The mother of a 2-week-old boy said her son would be alive today if they and his traveling nurse hadn’t been held up at Honolulu International Airport by customs personnel.

Luaipou Futi of American Samoa spoke through an interpreter during a news conference Tuesday at the offices of the family’s attorney, Rick Fried.

Futi’s son, Michael Tony, died Friday at the airport after he, Futi and the nurse, Arizona Veavea, were kept in a locked room after flying nearly five hours from American Samoa so the child could be treated for a birth defect, a hole in his heart, Fried said.

Plans had called for the three to travel from the airport directly to Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children, where Michael was to be treated, Fried said.

Instead, they were held at the airport apparently because of some problem with a visa waiver issued by U.S. Customs and Border Protection that allowed Futi, 38, to travel to the U.S. and remain for the duration of her son’s treatment, he said.

Veavea had told officials at the airport that even if there was a problem, she and the child, both naturalized U.S. citizens with U.S. passports, should be allowed to leave the airport to go to the hospital, he said.

Fried said he planned to file a notice of claim that the family intended to sue the federal government.

Jim Kosciuk, a CBP spokesman, said he couldn’t comment on the case because of potential legal issues.

LBJ Medical Center in American Samoa made the arrangements to transfer Michael to Honolulu for treatment he couldn’t receive in the U.S. territory located 2,300 miles south of Hawaii, Fried said.

The three flew aboard a Hawaiian Airlines flight after it was decided the child born Jan. 25 didn’t require an air ambulance. It was also determined he could ride in a private car that was waiting curbside, instead of an ambulance, from the airport to the hospital, Fried said.

The three were the first passengers to leave the plane, but after about 30 minutes in the warm, locked room, Michael had trouble breathing, Fried said.

“We’re way past the time now that this baby would have been in good hands at Kapiolani,” he said.

Veavea checked the door, but found it locked, he said. She and Futi began to scream, but people outside the door told them to “stay calm, relax,” he said.

About five minutes later, someone arrived to help perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation and eight to 10 minutes after that the infant was taken to another hospital, Fried said.

Scott Ishikawa, a spokesman for the state Transportation Department, said the child went into respiratory failure in the customs office, and airport paramedics failed to revive him.

Autopsy results are not yet complete.

Futi and her husband, Tony, 40, have a 14-year-old son and a 13-year-old daughter, but believed they could have no more children, so they adopted a son who is now 3, Fried said.

“So this baby … was a surprise to them, a real blessing. They were very excited about this,” he said.

Futi said she was so distraught, she couldn’t eat or sleep.