WASHINGTON - The family of an exchange student from Pakistan who has been comatose since a November car accident is fighting to prevent a Minnesota hospital from sending him back to his country, according to a US media report.
Muhammad Shahzaib Bajwa and his friends struck a deer as they were driving back from Minneapolis on November 13, and he suffered severe facial fractures. There were no immediate comments from the State Department when the plight of the comatose 20-year-old student, who faces the prospect of deportation, was brought to its attention.
Shahzaib Bajwa was spending a semester in an exchange programme at the University of Wisconsin-Superior at the time, his brother, Shahraiz Bajwa, told The Associated Press on Tuesday. The injured student was talking when he arrived at a hospital in Cloquet, a city in Carlton County, Minnesota. However, when there he choked on blood and went into cardiac arrest. He was resuscitated and transferred to Essentia Health-St. Mary's Medical Center in Duluth, his brother said. But he suffered brain damage from the heart attack and remains comatose.
Though he can open his eyes, squeeze his mother's hand, shrug his shoulders and has some movement in his legs, doctors have told the family it'll take a couple more years to find out how much more the 20-year-old will recover, Shahraiz Bajwa said. A hospital spokeswoman said Shahzaib Bajwa won't be able to stay in the country legally after his student visa expires February 28. Essentia has pressured the Bajwa family to sign consent forms to return the man to Pakistan, a flight that would take 24 hours, Shahraiz Bajwa said.
"If we take him back to Pakistan this is certainly pushing him toward death," Shahraiz Bajwa was quoted as saying by AP. "We don't want him to die in a miserable condition in a third-world country. It's better if he stays here." It's not unusual for U.S. hospitals seeking to curb high costs to effectively deport foreign citizens, even when they're comatose, an Associated Press review found last year. Shahraiz Bajwa said the hospital bill has reached about $350,000. Hospitals typically pay for the flights for these 'medical repatriations,' often without consulting any courts or federal agencies, the AP's review found. Maureen Talarico said the hospital is making arrangements with the State Department to transport Shahzaib Bajwa to Pakistan.
'This is an unfortunate situation and his caregivers are working closely with Mr. Bajwa's family to ensure the smoothest transition possible,' she said.
Shahzaib Bajwa's health insurance policy through his exchange programme has a cap of $100,000, and his brother said Essentia has chosen to absorb the costs and not tap that policy so the money would be available for his care in Pakistan. The family's immigration attorney, Saiko McIvor, said they're exploring their legal options for finding a way for the man to stay.
'It's a really, really sad situation,' McIvor was quoted as saying. She said the family, from Faisalabad, is not wealthy, so they'd have trouble paying for his care in Pakistan. Shahraiz Bajwa said his brother's policy would cover only about three months of care back home. 'We are under huge and immense pressure,' he said. 'The window of time is very small.'