Reading travel insurance reviews or real-life traveller stories? Discover how a bout of food poisoning sent Irena to the ICU – and how her Cover-More travel insurance policy provided cover for more ~$130k in unforeseen expenses. 

Person cooking kebabs in Vietnam

Source: Getty


“Without Cover-More, I would have died.” – Irena Caldwell, actual Cover-More customer

Have you considered travel insurance for your upcoming trip? Holidays can often be unpredictable, and sometimes even an innocent meal of chicken skewer kababs can lead to a serious health incident that creates ~$130k worth of bills.

If you’re reading travel insurance reviews or analysing travel insurance plans to help understand how a policy may provide cover for your next trip, it’s worth considering the importance of emergency overseas medical cover and access to a 24/7 emergency assistance team on your next trip.

As Irena Caldwell knows all too well, having the support of our emergency assistance team and appropriate travel insurance coverage can potentially help Australian travellers in moments when they need it most. 

Discover our traveller’s Cover-More travel insurance review

  • Who was travelling? Irena and Michael Caldwell
  • Where do they live? Brisbane, Australia
  • Where were they travelling to? Vietnam and Thailand
  • Total claim cost paid: ~$130,000

Exploring Asia

It was a holiday Brisbane’s Irena and Michael Caldwell had enjoyed every year for 15 years.

In their mid-60s and on long-service leave from their jobs as a nurse and postman, the

Ormiston couple excitedly packed their bags in June 2022 for an extended four-month stay in a family-owned apartment in Hua Hin, about 2.5 hours south of Bangkok, Thailand.

The first couple of months of their trip passed by leisurely, with the grandparents of two relaxing into holiday mode; taking daily ocean swims, walking to see the sights, and spending tropical nights by the pool, kicking back with a cool drink in hand.

Sadly, it was during a quick trip to Vietnam that illness struck, and with it began a horrific, months-long ordeal.


Watch Irena's Cover-More travel insurance review

How did the medical incident unfold?

“One night we were having a drink and ordered a snack, two chicken skewer kebabs, we had one each,” Irena said.

“Over the next couple of days, we both suffered horrendous food poisoning and then, once back in Thailand, Michael also tested positive for COVID.

“Michael soon recovered; however, I kept feeling worse.

“Over the next couple of weeks, I really went downhill. I was lethargic, nauseous, couldn’t eat, sweaty and had pain in my right knee, and my hip.

“So, I saw a doctor, who gave me a steroid injection in my knee. 

How did the unexpected incident change their original travel plans?

“Our trip home was approaching, and I felt very sick, but I was keen to get back as our daughter was getting married six days after we were set to arrive home. We had it all planned out.”

On their way back to Bangkok to catch their flight home, there was a storm, the roads were jammed, and their taxi driver took the wrong route.

Irena and Michael missed their flight.

Disappointed but determined, the couple booked a hotel nearby to wait out the next couple of days before their new flight home.

“I thought I was able to handle it right up until the day (of departure), but then I realised I could not even walk from the bed to the bathroom,” Irena said.

“My blood pressure was in my boots.

“I collapsed, and I said to Michael, ‘cancel the flights; call an ambulance’.”


Cover-More review - Irena Caldwell in Thailand pre-illness

Irena and Michael Caldwell enjoying their holiday before Irena's unexpected health incident.

Source: Supplied.


What happened at the hospital in Bangkok?

Irena doesn’t remember much after the ambulance arrived. Her doctors at the private hospital in Bangkok gave her a 10 per cent chance of survival. Michael was telling their fraught family back home that it was 50-50.

“I had gone septic, with multiple organ failure.

“I was kept in ICU, ventilated, and had a nurse with me 24/7.

“I also needed dialysis and had a stent put in my gallbladder,” Irena said.

Irena was in respiratory and renal failure because of bacteraemia (infections, and bacteria in the blood).

While all this was unfolding over several weeks, Irena’s daughter, Julia, was in constant contact with Cover-More, with whom the couple had taken out travel insurance before leaving home.


How did the overseas medical emergency affect Irena’s loved ones?

“Mum was very ill the week of my wedding”, Julia said.

“We had spoken earlier in the week and thought she needed to go to hospital to get better, not realising she was becoming seriously ill.

“We just thought it was a bad case of food poisoning. Turns out, she was already going into sepsis.”

But, the wedding was paid for. If they didn’t go ahead and do it, then they would have lost the money.

“We decided to go ahead and do the wedding knowing mum desperately wanted me to get married,” Julia said.

“The next day after the wedding, Dad advised that Mum was going to have kidney surgery.

“It was then that he told me how ill she really was and that she was in ICU.

“I thought she was in a hospital bed recovering, not in ICU.

“Mum’s friend Fiona (Fi) Hudghton then reached out to Mum as she hadn’t heard from her – by then, the reality of the situation dawned on me.”

Julia said it was “completely devastating”.

“My dad fell apart.

“Fi was an incredible support for me and, as a former nurse, she helped us to understand what was happening to Mum in hospital overseas.”


Irena Caldwell's unexpected health incident in Thailand

Left and right: Irena enjoying her holiday before Irena's unexpected health incident. Middle: Irena getting medical support.

Source: Supplied.


What could have happened without the support of Cover-More travel insurance?

Medical treatment abroad can get expensive, quickly, and Julia said once her mum’s claim was approved, it was a huge relief and meant Irena could keep getting the critical care she needed.

“Without Cover-More, I would have died,” Irena said. “Cover-More saved my life.”

“Cover-More were incredible. They stood by us through the entire process. They took a lot of stress out of the experience for Michael and for family at home. They came through for us when we needed help the most.

“I tell all my friends and family that if they are travelling, there is no other insurance to take out – I will never travel without Cover-More insurance.”

Irena needed commercial repatriation in business class with a Registered Nurse escort to return to Australia after her hospitalisation in Thailand.

Our Cover-More team’s assistance included coverage for medical expenses in Thailand, coverage for repatriation to Australia, and hospital admission on return.

It’s estimated the costs were around $130,000. 

What happened to Irena once she was back in Australia?

Once on home soil, Irena was taken to hospital in Brisbane where she was diagnosed with three superbugs, including one in her hip, where it had attacked the cartilage.

She was in and out of hospital for months.

While she’s now back home, Irena’s battle back to full health is ongoing, with weekly blood tests and continuing specialist appointments.

But she remains optimistic and is surrounded by her close-knit family and friends.

“The hardest part was having to retire early because of my health issues. I loved being a nurse and I miss it every day,” Irena said.

“But, I am still alive.

“I am still here to spend time with my two grandchildren, the lights of my life.

“And I have Cover-More to thank for that.”

Julia echoes her mum’s advice for travellers to get insurance.

“If it wasn’t for the insurance, Mum wouldn’t be here today. My parents would have lost their house. It was literally a lifesaver,” she said.

“I hope that no one ever has to go through what we went through as a family.

“Thank goodness we had Cover-More insurance in the end.”



Want to cover your trip after reading this Cover-More travel insurance review?

Emergency medical incidents can arise when you least expect them – consider covering your next trip with Cover-More travel insurance today.


Testimonials are based on individual circumstances and may not reflect your experience. They may be influenced by factors such as cover options, excess, risk ratings, and available discounts, as well as the person’s own objectives, situation and needs. All claims are assessed on a case-by-case basis and subject to the terms and conditions, including limits and exclusions contained in the Combined FSG/PDS. Please consider your financial situation, needs and objectives and read the Combined FSG/PDS before deciding to buy this insurance.