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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Baby locked up at Honolulu airport dies

Video: Samoa family suing for baby’s death

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Michael Futi

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Attorney Rick Fried, left, will sue the U.S. government for the death of 14-day-old Michael Futi after he and his mother, Luaipou Futi, far right, were detained at Honolulu Airport upon entering the U.S. from American Samoa. Translator Simamao Nofoa is in the middle.

DEBORAH BOOKER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Luaipou Futi was carrying this certificate of identity of her son, Michael Tony Futi, when they arrived at Honolulu Airport.

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Luaipou Futi and a nurse banged on a locked door at Honolulu International Airport Friday morning and begged for medical help for Futi's 14-day-old son, who had flown here from American Samoa for heart surgery and was becoming distressed in the warm room.

According to Futi's attorney, from the other side of the door, the women heard voices telling them to remain calm.

After 30 minutes in the room, Futi, her son, Michael Tony Futi, and the traveling nurse, Arizona Veavea, were released, attorney Rick Fried said.

City paramedics took Michael to Kaiser Permanente's Moana-lua Medical Center, but he died later that morning. Emergency Services Department officials said they received a call at 6:10 a.m. and the child was taken to Kaiser Moanalua in critical condition.

Autopsy results are pending.

At Fried's Bishop Street offices yesterday, Futi spoke through a translator, Simamao Nofoa, who said, "She was so happy — the minute she got on that plane — because she knew her baby was coming here ... They were the first ones out of the plane. If they would let them come immediately, her baby would have still been here. Her son would have still been alive. She's heartbroken. She can't eat. She can't sleep. ... She's traumatized."

It should have only taken 10 to 15 minutes to get Michael from the airport to Kapi'olani Medical Center for Women & Children, where he was scheduled to be hospitalized on Friday and examined for a probable heart operation, Fried said.

But immigration officials detained Michael, his mother and Veavea, apparently believing there was "some problem with the visa waiver form for the mother," Fried said. In fact, Fried said, all the travel documents were in order.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials declined comment yesterday.


Fried showed the media documents yesterday, including one from U.S. Customs and Border Protection with the word "APPROVAL" in large type and a handwritten note that "Luaipou Futi may travel and stay for duration of sons (sic) treatment."

While in the Homeland Security room, "Arizona was very concerned and pacing back and forth, wondering when they were coming," Fried said. "After about 30 minutes in this warm, locked room, the baby starts to have problems with his oxygen. ... We're way past the time when this baby would have been in good hands at Kapi'olani. ... The door is locked. They cannot get out."

When they were first detained, Veavea, who speaks fluent English, explained to Homeland Security officials that Michael needed to get medical treatment, the lawyer said, and suggested that officials release her and Michael.

But officials detained all of them.

"Even if they had a valid cause for holding the mother of the baby ... there is absolutely no basis for holding the baby or the baby's nurse, who traveled with no luggage," Fried said, adding "the baby and the nurse are naturalized American citizens and have a U.S. passport."

Yesterday, Fried served notice with the federal government that he intends to file a lawsuit over Michael's death.

Jim Kosciuk, spokesman for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection office in Honolulu, declined to respond to Fried's account of Michael's death yesterday.

"With any potential legal action or pending litigation, we don't make comments," Kosciuk said.


Michael was the fourth child of Tony, 40, and Luaipou Futi, 38, who have two teenagers and adopted a third child when they thought they could no longer conceive.

Then Michael was born by Caesarean section on Jan. 25.

"Several days later, it was noticed that there was a heart murmur. ... The baby had a hole in his heart. (Surgery to repair the defect) is not available to be performed in Samoa," Fried said.

Doctors in American Samoa told Fried that with proper medical care he was expected to live a long life, he said.

"The long-term prognosis for this baby was good."

Officials at Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital in American Samoa had made arrangements for Michael to be hospitalized at Kapi'olani Medical Center for Women & Children, Fried said.

Futi, her son and Veavea arrived around 5:30 a.m. Friday morning after a nearly five-hour Hawaiian Airlines flight, he said.

During the flight, the boy was hooked up to an oxygen tank.

Later, inside the locked room, Michael's condition worsened. Futi and Veavea began screaming to call 911, Fried said, "and the people outside are saying, 'Stay calm, relax.' "

After another five minutes, the door opened and someone helped perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation on the baby, he said.

Another 10 minutes passed before paramedics arrived, he said, and eight minutes later they took Michael to the medical center.

"By then, it was probably too late to help," Fried said. "We had a delay of probably an hour when this baby should have left the airport. It's our position that the child clearly would have been in good shape at the time it would have been able to arrive. Why these people kept all three of them ... is just something we'll have to get into."

Correction: Michael Futi, not Luaipou Futi, was delivered by cesarean section on Jan. 25. Information in a previous version of this story was inaccurate.

Reach Dan Nakaso at dnakaso@honoluluadvertiser.com.