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Family of Pakistani Patient Fights to Keep Him in Duluth

Updated: 02/12/2014 2:57 PM
Created: 02/12/2014 2:29 PM KSTP.com
By: Leslie Dyste

The family of an exchange student from Pakistan who has been comatose since a November crash is trying to prevent his deportation back to Pakistan.

KSTP's sister station WDIO reports, a deer hoof crashed through the windshield and fractured 20-year-old Muhammad Shahzeib Bajwa's skull Nov. 13, according to his brother Shahraiz Bajwa.

The University of Wisconsin-Superior foreign exchange student was awake and talking at Cloquet Memorial Hospital, but his condition soon got worse according to Shahraiz Bajwa.

“Because he was bleeding a lot and at one point he choked. And when he vomited blood and choked on his own blood and suffered a cardiac arrest for probably 7 or 8 minutes,” Shahraiz Bajwa said.

He said the heart attack left his brother without oxygen and caused brain damage.

“Some of the doctors were saying that his brain is completely gone, but every doctor has a different opinion. Some of the doctors said 'No, he needs some time,'” Shahraiz Bajwa said.

He said Muhammad improved after being transferred to Essentia Health St. Mary's in Duluth. He can breath on his own, nod and shrug, but his brother says any further recovery could take years.

Muhammad Shahzeib Bajwa's student visa expires on Feb. 28, and his brother said he's been pressured to sign consent forms to return the man to Pakistan. Shahraiz Bajwa said he's unsure what could happen during the more than 24 hour flight.

“His best chance of recovery or survival is here. They are telling me to take my brother from the best health care system to a third world country health care system,” he said.

It's not unusual for U.S. hospitals seeking to curb high costs to effectively deport foreign citizens back home, even when they're comatose, an Associated Press review found last year. Hospitals typically pay for the flights for these "medical repatriations," often without consulting any courts or federal agencies, the AP's review found.

However, Maureen Talarico, Media Relations Specialist for Essentia Health, said this decision was made by the State Department and not the hospital. She responded to the difficult situation with a written statement.

“The U.S. State Department is not renewing Mr. Bajwa's visa, therefore he is not legally allowed to stay in the country. St. Mary's Medical Center has been working with the State Department, which is making arrangements for Mr. Bajwa's medical transport home. This is an unfortunate situation and his caregivers are working closely with Mr. Bajwa's family to ensure the smoothest transition possible,” Talarico wrote.

Shahraiz Bajwa hopes politicians or a humanitarian organization will step in before his brother is deported.

Shahraiz Bajwa said his brother's foreign exchange insurance only covers $100,000 in medical costs and that will only get him three months of care in Pakistan. An online medical fund has been set up for Muhammad Shahzeib Bajwa, and donations can be made by clicking here.

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 said.

She said the family, from Faisalabad in Punjab province, is not wealthy, so they'd have trouble paying for his care in Pakistan.

Shahraiz Bajwa said Essentia Health has not charged his family for Muhammad Shahzeib Bajwa's medical care, but Talarico could not comment on that due to privacy laws.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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