Holiday of a lifetime became a descent into hell.

By Richard Wood

April 22, 2017: Four New Plymouth people land in Havana, Cuba for a 20 day holiday.

Craig Nolly and Richard Toon are in Cuba, celebrating 30 years in business together and 20 years since they formed Abacus Group, an insurance advisory business (or brokerage). Their wives Caroline Nolly and Grazia Toon are with them. Then a catastrophe strikes Craig down and he nearly dies.

Grazia had wanted to go to Cuba for some time, so the Toons asked Craig and Caroline if they wanted to come. Caroline, a qualified travel agent, organised the itinerary.

After four days in the Panama area, the plan was an eight-day road trip around Cuba then, a short Caribbean cruise and home.

Communist Cuba has recently opened its borders to flights from US territories and it’s attracting a lot of tourism interest. The foursome are in high spirits; they are frequent travellers but this is a special adventure in completely new territory.

A catastrophe strikes Craig down. He ends up with botched abdominal surgery in a poorly equipped local hospital and nearly dies. The vacation is abandoned, Craig is medivaced out to Florida, then eventually back to New Zealand on June 3, 2017.

His insurer pays for everything, thanks to the comprehensive travel cover Craig purchased before leaving.

After further surgery in New Plymouth he has finally made a full recovery and returned to work at Abacus on June 7, 2018.

The total cost to the group’s travel insurer for the aborted holiday and Craig’s international medical and medivac assistance totalled in excess of $500,000.

This would rank as one of the highest payouts for an individual traveller by an NZ-based insurer for that year.


Craig had been diagnosed with mild diverticulitis pre-2000 but wasn’t overly concerned about it. It’s common in 25% of males over 40 and 40% of over 60 males. Many people would never know they have it. The main symptoms are lower abdomen pain and bloating. When it flares up badly you may need antibiotics. It’s commonly portrayed as an ageing condition, or sometimes confused with irritable bowel syndrome.

“It’s an inflammatory bowel disease that is typically controlled by diet management and sometimes antibiotics. Severe inflammation can cause a weakening of the colon [or bowel] wall.”

“Four months prior to the travel I had a precautionary colonoscopy which concluded that my diverticulitis was mild and that I did not need to present for further screening for 7 years. I’m quite pro-active about monitoring my health and this was the third or fourth colonoscopy I’ve had.

“There’s not much else you can do really. The causes are not fully understood and they can’t diagnose that a rupture may be imminent. Perhaps what triggered mine was a combination of diverticulitis, changes in air pressure during the flights and different food. But it’s just a maybe. Also, when you live with the condition for as long as I have it just becomes normal, you don’t even think about it. And it can be difficult to get doctors to prescribe antibiotics due to the dangers of becoming immune to the medicine.”

Craig’s  travel insurance

Fortunately, Craig had purchased a standard Chubb travel insurance policy before the holiday, which covered all pre-existing medical conditions for the first 21 days of travel. (unfortunately, for intending travellers, this policy wording was under review due to high losses at the time of writing and may no longer be available).

As the trip was only for 20 days this policy fitted Craig perfectly. He could go away with complete confidence that he was covered for any situation that might arise. The whole group had comprehensive travel cover.