After reading a barrage of stories about Americans feeling ill and some of them dying while on vacation at a couple of resorts in the Dominican Republic, Ryan Duff was flooded with the memory of his own terrifying trip to the hospital, he says.
“I feel like it all came back when I started reading these stories,” Duff, 31, tells PEOPLE. “I feel so lucky that I’m all right. I have so much gratitude, and it makes me realize what could have happened. It makes me think how easy it is for something to go wrong.”
Duff and his husband Jose Gomez traveled from their home in Los Angeles to the Dominican Republic for a friend’s wedding at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana in late February.
Before the reception started, Duff and Gomez, 39, went back to their room for a few drinks, which they grabbed from the minibar, he says. He had rum, and his husband had tequila.
During their friend’s reception, he began to feel chills and feverish. It was enough for him to excuse himself from the celebration and return to his room.
“I started feeling delirious like I was in a dream,” he says. “I was really scared.”
He called the resort’s physician who told him, “You look really bad,” he recalls. She thought Duff might have a tropical disease and urged him to take a taxi – there are no ambulances, he says – to the nearest emergency room.
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For hours, doctors observed him while they ran tests, which came back negative. He says he felt like he stabilized and decided to return to his hotel. He decided to downplay the experience because he didn’t want to ruin everyone’s good time.
But as news reports began to surface about the spate of Americans who have mysteriously died at the same resort and another one a few miles away, he says he decided to share his own experience on his Facebook page because the stories seemed eerily similar.
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The State Department confirms that there have been at least 8 deaths of Americans in the Dominican Republic since last June. The FBI and CDC confirm to PEOPLE that they are investigating six of the deaths and multiple illnesses around Punta Cana.
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“At the time, I thought I was sick enough to die,” he says. The experience hasn’t discouraged him from possibly returning to the Dominican Republic or other Caribbean islands, but he’s definitely more aware of the dangers.
“As a country, I thought it was a great place to visit. I wouldn’t discourage anyone from going there. In every other way, I felt safe,” he says, but adds that he probably won’t stay at large resorts. “It will make me cautious in the future.”