MANILA - A dream family vacation in island paradise Caramoan turned into a nightmare for the Trimarchi family after their 7-year-old daughter died from a jellyfish sting during an island-hopping tour.
Filipino-Italian Gaia Trimarchi, a gold medalist in swimming competitions in Italy, was wading in the shallow waters of Sabitang Laya island, the last stop of the island-hopping tour booked that day, when she suddenly screamed in pain, Gaia’s mother Manette Trimarchi told ABS-CBN News.
“Mahilig ang anak ko mamulot ng seashells so doon lang siya sa mababaw na parte na hanggang bewang lang niya kaya nagulat kami nung biglang sumigaw ng, ‘Ouch! Ouch!’” Trimarchi told ABS-CBN News.
(My daughter loves to collect seashells so she just stays in the shallow areas where the water is just up to her waist. That’s why we were surprised when she suddenly screamed in pain.)
Mrs. Trimarchi was with her brother, sister-in-law, nephew, Gaia’s swimming coach and some boatmen when the incident happened on Thursday, July 26.
"Sabi ni [Gaia] in Italian: 'Mama, anong mangyayari sa akin?' Sabi ko: 'Walang mangyayari sa iyo'. 'Sabi niya sa akin: 'Wag na 'wag mo na ako dadalhin sa dagat. Last time ko na ito.” And I said: 'Hindi na, last time na ito,'" she recalled.
(Gaia said: 'Mama, what will happen to me?' I said: 'Nothing will happen to you.' And then she said: 'Mama, please don't bring me back to the sea. This is the last time.' And I said: 'This is the last time.')
“Nakita ko na lang yung hita niya kulay violet na. May mga tusok na pilit niyang tinatanggal to the point na pati sa kamay niya meron na,” Trimarchi said.
(I saw a part of her upper leg turning purple. She was trying to remove some barbs on her leg to the point that it spread to her hands.)
Trimarchi said she immediately took out all the barbs stuck on Gaia’s hand and leg, still unsure of what was happening to her daughter.
"Pinulot nung isang bangkero, box jellyfish daw 'yung naka-sting. Tapos 'yun na. Wala silang dalang first aid. Sinisi pa kami bakit daw wala kaming baong suka na pambuhos sa sting ng jellyfish,” the mother, who is still mourning the death of her only daughter, said.
(The tour guide and boatmen said it was a box jellyfish and that was it. There was no first aid kit on the boat and they even blamed us for not bringing our own vinegar which was a cure for jellyfish sting.)
It took the boat 30 minutes to travel from Sabitang Laya island to the main Caramoan beach, and another 10-minute tricycle ride before the child was taken from the beach to the hospital, Trimarchi said.
Gaia was declared dead on arrival at the Caramoan Municipal Hospital due to serious allergic reaction, Dr. Minerva Aguirre, one of the hospital’s attending physicians, told ABS-CBN News.
"Her pupils were dilated, her vital signs were gone...Nung nag-message sa amin, nagprepare na rin kami ng meds na pwedeng ibigay kaso ‘di na namin naibigay kasi wala na siyang buhay,” Aguirre said.
(When we got the message, we prepared medicine for the sting but we were not able to administer it because she was already lifeless.)
She added that another 6-year-old child died in the same waters a week ago.
Venom of a box jellyfish, considered to be among the most deadly in the world, can cause spasms, followed by paralysis, cardiac respiratory arrest and death in just minutes.
Trimarchi said her daughter could have been saved if tourists were properly advised that there were deadly jellyfish in the area and if there were first-aid kits aboard their boat.
“There were no warning signages. Our boatmen did not tell us about it. Hindi naman kami taga doon, turista kami. Paano naman namin malalaman na meron palang nakakamatay doon?” she said.
(We were not from the area, we’re tourists. How would we know that there was something deadly in those waters?)
“While on our way back, it was my daughter’s Italian swimming coach who gave her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation,” she added.
Boat machinist Edcel Alarcon said they did inform the group about the presence of jellyfish and sea urchins but not in their last stop.
"Kasi 15 minutes lang po sabi nila. Ang kuwan ko hindi na sila maliligo kasi picture-picture na lang," said Alarcon.
(They said they would only stay for 15 minutes. I thought they wouldn't go swimming but would just take pictures.)
Alarcon's companion, Prospero Ortil, said he applied gasoline on Gaia’s wounds because that was all they had on the boat.
“Hinaplusan ko ng konting gasolina. Naalis. Hinawakan ko tapos sumakay na kami ng bangka. Sabi ko 'Ma'am, takbo na natin [sa ospital],'” Ortil said.
(I applied some gasoline. The barbs came off. I touched the child and we went to the boat. I told the mother we needed to take the girl to the hospital.)
What they did not have on the boat, which could have been used to remove the jellyfish tentacles, was vinegar.
Marine biologist Gerry Reyes said the essential first aid for divers stung by jellyfish is vinegar "because it neutralizes the venom."
"Yung acetic acid is very good sa mga stings ng jellyfish pero hindi 'yun basta-basta na lalagyan lang, okay na,” Reyes told ABS-CBN News.
(The acetic acid is very good for jellyfish stings but that doesn't mean that it's already OK after you apply it.)
Reyes cautioned against using random chemicals and even urine to cure jellyfish stings, which may cause more harm to the patient.
"It’s not being encouraged to use the urine kasi we don't know what’s in the urine kasi it's a means of defecation,” he said.
Ortil explained he did not have vinegar on his boat because the tourists did not order food for the trip.
"Dapat kasi may dala kaming pagkain, sangkap na may suka. Pero doon sila nagpaluto sa Manlawi 'yung turista. Sila ang nagpaluto doon. Kaya inabot kami ng aksidente. Natagalan nga kami dun sa Manlawi," he said.
(We should have brought food, which had vinegar as an ingredient. But the tourists had food cooked in Manlawi. They ordered it prepared there. That's why we had an accident. We stayed a while in Manlawi.)
Trimarchi also slammed the boatmen for blaming them for the incident.
“Sabi nung isa, ‘Akala ko ba swimmer yang anak mo. Bakit hindi nailigtas ang sarili?’" she recalled.
(One of them said: "I thought your daughter was a swimmer. Why couldn't she save herself?"
She added: "My daughter was not swimming or racing when it happened. She did not die of drowning. She died from a jellyfish sting."
For its part, the Caramoan local government admitted that trainings being given to tour guides in the island destination are not enough.
“In terms of training, nagpo-provide naman kami. Hayaan niyo po at magiging lesson din sa part namin 'yan para pagbutihin ang magiging sistema. After this, tatawag kami ng meeting para pag usapan, pag aralan para di na maulit ang ganitong sitwasyon,” Caramoan administrator Constantino Cordial said in a separate interview.
(In terms of training, we do provide. Rest assured, this will be a lesson to us to improve the system. After this, we will call for a meeting to talk about it, to study it so that it won't happen again.)
DEATHS DUE TO JELLYFISH
The box jellyfish, said to be among the world's most poisonous creatures, kills 20 to 40 people in the Philippines every year, according to research from the United States National Science Foundation.
Earlier this year, Anne Curtis shared that she nearly died after she was stung by a box jellyfish while filming in Batangas.
Curtis said she survived because she was only stung by half of the jellyfish’s tentacle.
“I am very thankful that I got stung by only half a tentacle. So, even if I experienced all the symptoms -- vomiting in a span of one minute, extreme pain, and delirium -- the venom was not enough to put me into cardiac arrest and turn into [a] fatal sting,” Curtis wrote on her Instagram.
Gaia, who also dreamed of becoming a half-blooded Filipina celebrity like Curtis, was stung on her legs, stomach and hands.
Her family said they have no plans to file charges against responsible parties. They are now arranging for Gaia’s remains to be flown to Italy where she will be cremated.
They are also pushing for more responsible tourism management in beach destinations in the country.
"Wala silang first aid. Suka lang daw pero wala naman. Nagdala pa kami ng ibang tourists, Italian, para i-present ang bansa natin na ang Pilipinas ang may pinakamagandang dagat," Trimarchi said.
(They had no first aid. They said vinegar was all that was needed but there was none. We brought tourists there, Italians, to show that the Philippines has the best swimming places.)
"Sana hindi na maulit. Sana maging careful sila sa ganyang bagay. Sabihan nila 'yung mga tao o maglagay sila ng notice doon na 'This place is dangerous.' Maglagay sila sa kada bangka ng first aid. Namatay anak ko na buhat ko. Ayaw na namin na maulit pa ito sa ibang bata, sa ibang magulang. Sana maging aral."
(I hope it doesn't happen again. I hope that they are more careful about these things, that they tell people about it or put a notice there that this place is dangerous. They should put first aid kits in every boat. My child died in my arms. We don't want this to happen to another child, to another parent. I hope it becomes a lesson.)