Airlifted Cunard Cruise Passenger Recovering from Successful Surgery

April 23, 2009
Queen Victoria Update, 12:45 p.m. EDT: A spokesperson for Cunard tells us today that the cruise line will offer Judy Stockwell a replacement cruise.

(April 22) -- A passenger onboard Cunard's Queen Victoria had to cut her cruise holiday short just a few hours into the voyage, but she's not complaining.

That's because the woman, 64-year-old Judy Stockwell, had good reason to abandon ship -- she finally received news of an available donor after waiting two years for a lifesaving kidney transplant. And with the help of the ship's captain and the Royal Navy, Stockwell was airlifted from the ship back to land, where she was sped by ambulance to the hospital for a successful surgery from which she is now recovering.

The U.K.'s Daily Mail reports that Stockwell's unexpected journey began at around 5 a.m. on 21 April when she received a call on her mobile alerting her that she had five hours to get to the hospital for the transplant. Stockwell asked the ship's purser for help, and the captain prepared to turn the ship around before calling for a helicopter from the Royal Navy air base at Culdrose, in Cornwall. The ship was 50 miles off the coast of Cornwall at that time.

"It was scary because they put a survival suit on me and a big helmet and a life jacket which is very heavy," Stockwell told the Daily Mail before her surgery. "I was really desperate because this is going to change my life. I'm so grateful to all those involved."

Stockwell had decided to book the trip -- a 12-night Mediterranean cruise roundtrip from Southampton -- after losing hope of obtaining a suitable kidney and believing it could be her last holiday. She had planned to visit her daughter, who'd recently moved to Majorca, during a port call there. Stockwell's daughter instead flew in from Majorca to be by her mother's bedside with the rest of the family -- including Stockwell's two other children, and two grandchildren.

A spokesman for the search and rescue operation told the Daily Mail that this was the first time they'd ever rescued someone from a cruise ship for a transplant.

--by Melissa Baldwin Paloti, with reporting by Kelly Ranson, U.K. Editor