‘Very Intense:’ Couple Says They Got Sick During Trip to Dominican Republic

By Zachary Stieber

A Georgia couple said they got sick while on vacation in the Dominican Republic, adding to the growing list of stories about mysterious illnesses and deaths in the Caribbean country.

Vanessa McNelley-Neal and her husband James, who currently live in Atlanta, said they were in the Dominican Republic in November 2018 when things went wrong.

“We had a good couple of days and then started feeling ill,” McNelley-Neal told WXIA. “Started having really bad abdominal cramps. Thought it was some kind of a GI [gastrointestinal] issue. I had a light headache.”

Her husband had similar symptoms and they both found medicine had no effect.

“I had food poisoning years ago in Tahiti so I know what that feels like and it did not feel like that,” McNelley-Neal said. “The stomach cramping was very different. It was very intense. It was not the normal stomach pains.”

The couple returned to their home at the time in Puerto Rico and went to the doctor, who ran a series of tests but could not figure out what caused the sicknesses.

When they moved to Atlanta the next month, a doctor there was also stumped. The illnesses eventually went away. The couple moved on, but noticed some news reports about the series of illnesses and deaths that began being reported in early June after a Maryland couple was found dead in their hotel room on May 30.

“We just left it be until people started having the same issues and it sounded very similar to what we had going on and it just didn’t make a lot of sense,” McNelley-Neal said. Her husband added: “We just want to say our part and hopefully other people would come forward and there will be an investigation.”

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The Playa Neuva Romana resort in the Dominican Republic. (Screenshot/Google Maps)

While the couple did not list the specific hotel they stayed in, they said it was part of the chain owned by Bahia Principe Hotels & Resorts.

Many of the deaths and illnesses have been linked to the chain, particularly two of its hotels in a resort in La Romana: Luxury Bahia Principe Bouganville and Grand Bahia Principe La Romana.

In a statement released on June 7, the company said in a statement that there was “inaccurate and false information … spread or circulated by various media.”

The company did not address the deaths and illnesses and only referred to the first two incidents reported: the Maryland couple found dead on May 30 and a Pennsylvania woman found dead on May 25.

“For 24 years, Bahia Principe Hotels & Resorts has operated in the Dominican Republic … receiving 7 million tourists from all over the world annually,” it added. The company said it has 14 hotels in the country with over 7,100 rooms.

While at least eight deaths have been reported to have taken place in the country in the last 12 months, other people said they got violently ill while staying there.

A Colorado couple said they sued the company after getting ill in June 2018 while staying at the Grand Bahia Principe La Romana. “I was having the worst intestinal cramping I have ever experienced. It felt like a chainsaw going through my gut,” Kaylynn Knull told ABC 7.

Four months later, a New York woman was at the nearby Luxury Bahia Principe Bouganville when she grabbed a bottle of soda out of the minifridge in her room.

“When I took a swig of it, I kind of held it in my mouth the minute I held it, it just started burning,” Montes told Pix 11. “I ran to the bathroom when I spit it out there was blood, my mouth was on fire, my gums, everything was bleeding.”

She was rushed to a hospital, where doctors treated her. She said that spitting out the soda likely saved her life and now thinks someone spiked the drink.

“I didn’t realize this could’ve been done on purpose, I just thought it was an accident someone mixed it up, but now I think it was done on purpose,” she said.