Father of Woman Who Died of Mysterious Illness in Fiji Speaks Out About Telling Her Son
David and Michelle Paul were vacationing in Fiji recently when they both came down with a mysterious illness and died.
June 6, 2019
The father of a Texas woman, who suddenly died alongside her husband after they contracted a mysterious illness during their trip to Fiji, is doing his best to be strong for the couple’s little boy despite not yet having any answers as to why they died.
Marc Calanog, the father of Michelle Paul and father-in-law to David Paul, tells PEOPLE he’s struggling to come to terms with the fact that he’ll one day have to tell his 2-year-old grandson Ayden that his parents are no longer alive.
This week, Ayden’s parents, Michelle and David, were on vacation in Fiji when they came down with an unknown illness, sending them both to the hospital. They tragically died shortly after seeking out medical treatment.
“I don’t even know how to say it to Ayden because [he] is 2 years old,” Marc explains. “Once I have it all more clear, I guess I’m going to start talking to a priest and ask him for help to see how I can tell this to Ayden.”
Marc, who noted that he and his wife are currently the primary caretakers for Ayden, says they’ve been trying to keep their emotions intact to ensure that the toddler has a positive upbringing.
“If we get depressed, then my grandson will be the one to suffer,” Marc explains. “Right now, we are taking care of my grandson. We want to be strong because instead of being a grandparent, we might end up being a parent and that is a big shift from what we’ve been doing for the last few years.”
“Overall, we will recover,” Marc confidently adds. “There’s no question because our focus now is on what to do with Ayden. We cannot be depressed and [not] have a clear mind because we have to handle this responsibility.”
The Fort Worth, Texas parents had been looking forward to their trip to Fiji for quite some time but sadly never made it back home, KVUE reports.
“They were planning an amazing vacation,” Tracey Calanog, Michelle Paul’s sister-in-law, told the outlet, adding that the young couple would often take annual trips together, just the two of them. “They always wanted to explore.”
Fiji was also a desirable destination as Michelle and Paul both adored the water, according to Marc.
“They loved water,” he says of the couple who met in Hawaii while Michelle was getting her Master’s degree in hotel management. “Every weekend, they were at the beach. My daughter loved surfing, snorkeling, and just walking on the beach. Fortunately, David was also like that.”
Their “amazing vacation”, however, turned into a nightmare when the parents of four — besides their 2-year-old son, the couple also raised David’s three kids from a past relationship — came down with an unknown illness, sending them both to the hospital.
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Unfortunately, it was too late, as Michelle and David both succumbed to the illness they had contracted on the South Pacific island — one so aggressive and deadly that it managed to debilitate two healthy, fit, and young individuals.
“Very physically fit,” Tracey recalled to KVUE of Michelle, a former student-athlete, and David, an Air Force veteran, who were expected to return home from their trip just one day later.
Michelle was believed to have died first. After her passing, hospital staff reportedly planned to transfer David to an Australian hospital by helicopter for additional treatment but he died shortly before they could, according to KVUE.
On Monday, local police confirmed that the Pauls had died from an illness, though the exact type still remained unknown, and authorities are now working with Health Ministry to investigate the matter and conduct additional testing overseas, Fiji Broadcasting Corporation reports.
Public Diplomacy Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Fiji, Becca Archer-Knepper, confirmed the couples’ deaths to PEOPLE and said the embassy was assisting local authorities.
“For more than a week, the U.S. Embassy has been closely working with the Fiji government, police, and health officials in their investigation into the tragic deaths of two U.S. citizens while on holiday in Fiji,” Archer-Knepper said in a statement to PEOPLE.
“The Embassy has facilitated contact between the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Fiji’s Ministry of Health to ascertain the causes of death and to assist in any related measures. We appreciate the efforts made thus far by the Fijian authorities and stand ready to provide further assistance, if requested. At this point, we are not aware of any specific public-health threat to the community.”
As of Wednesday, Marc tells PEOPLE that the autopsy report for the couple had been completed, but he had not yet received the official document or death certificate in the mail.
He also notes that the couple’s bodies still remain on the island until it is determined through forensic investigation that the illness is not infectious. If it is, their bodies will have to be cremated.
In the meantime, Marc says he’s working to get answers and prevent another tragedy like this from happening again.
“We are looking for the root cause,” he tells PEOPLE. “I want to make sure that American tourists understand if there’s a risk — and maybe there’s not — but I would be saddened if someone repeated their experience because I did not do my job as a citizen and try to find out what are the issues.”