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CDC joins investigation into death of Fort Worth couple in Fiji

The Centers for Disease Control confirms David and Michelle Paul died of an unconfirmed illness. Specimens from their remains will be sent to CDC labs for testing.

FORT WORTH, Texas — Updated at 8:18 p.m. with additional statements from the Ministry of Health in Fiji.

The Centers for Disease Control confirmed on Tuesday that health investigators on the island of Fiji have requested CDC assistance with the investigation into the deaths of David and Michelle Paul. 

The couple from Fort Worth traveled to Fiji on a dream vacation on May 20, but they became violently ill while there. 

According to family members, Michelle, 35, died on May 25. David, 38, died on May 27. 

The CDC said the couple died from an unidentified illness and that specimens from the remains will be tested by CDC laboratories as part of the investigation.

A media liaison officer at the Ministry of Health in Fiji told WFAA on Tuesday that "Influenza has been ruled out, and at this stage we do not believe there is any risk to the public. It would be premature to speculate further on the cause of death until the investigation is complete...Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of this young couple at this difficult time."

Fiji investigators are working with the CDC & the World Health Organization (WHO). Those who were in close contact with Pauls are being monitored but are “currently well.” 

The involvement of the CDC in the investigation is welcomed news for Michelle’s father, Marc Calanog, who expressed frustration with a lack of information about his daughter's and son-in-law’s mysterious deaths.

He has spoken to government officials on the island.

“I gave the instruction not to do any cremation until I’m satisfied that the specimen is done [being tested],” he told ABC’s Good Morning America, “because I would like the whole world to know if they died of an infectious disease. The CDC can confirm that and tell Americans and other people that these are issues you’re going to face if you have to travel to Fiji.”

He received a text from Michelle a few days after they arrived in Fiji telling him that she and David had both been vomiting and suffering from diarrhea.

“Then the last text I got from my daughter was her hands were numb,” he said.

Michelle passed away at a local hospital. 

Plans were being made to fly David to Australia for medical care, but he died before he could be evacuated.

“That was a shock,” Calanog said. “I didn’t have a chance to talk to her.” 

The couple had purchased a home in Fort Worth in November and were excited about it, Calanog said, but the keys to that home are in Fiji.

The couple had one child together - a son, who is in Las Vegas with Calanog and his wife. David’s previous children from other relationships are also with family members.

“Now from grandparents, we are parents,” Calanog said. “The only thing that’s keeping us here feeling not to emotional is believing they are all in better shape.”