Pakistani officials want comatose student to stay
By John Lundy
“That’s what we have said is give this boy a chance, because definitely the medical facilities here are much better than in Pakistan,” said Faisal Niaz Tirmizi, the Pakistani general consul in Chicago.
But as of Friday, exactly two weeks before Bajwa’s student visa will expire, the U.S. State Department still hadn’t answered the consulate’s request that Bajwa’s stay be extended until his condition stabilizes, Tirmizi said.
The recovery to that point could take more than a year, said Bajwa’s brother, Shahraiz Bajwa, in an interview earlier this week.
Shahzaib Bajwa, 20, has been in a coma since being brought to St. Mary’s on Nov. 13 following a car accident on Interstate 35 near Cloquet. Shahzaib was a University of Wisconsin-Superior student at the time of the accident, but his visa expires Feb. 28. The hospital told the family that they couldn’t legally keep him in their care beyond that time.
Shahraiz, 22, who immediately flew to the United States from Pakistan after learning about the accident, wants his brother kept at St. Mary’s because of the superior quality of care here, he said this week. But he’s also concerned that his brother might not survive the long flight.
That’s possible, an official for a company that specializes in such flights said.
“We don’t have data about deaths in flights, but it has happened, yes,” said Sarah Hanley, director of corporate communications for Alabama-based AirMed International.
AirMed, which transfers all international patients for the Mayo Clinic, has transported patients who were in comas, Hanley said. And distance is not an issue.
“We have transported patients from Minnesota to places such as Pakistan, or vice versa,” Hanley said. “It is possible and done quite often, transports of that long-distance scope.”
Costs vary depending on the level of medical expertise needed, but it certainly would be more than $100,000, she said. Allowing for refueling and pilot transfers, the trip would take about 24 hours, she added.
A patient in a coma couldn’t be taken on a commercial flight, Hanley said.
Shahzaib already has run up a $350,000 medical bill at St. Mary’s, which has been absorbed by the hospital, his brother said. The family has not yet had to dip into a $90,000 insurance policy that was part of the exchange program, Tirmizi said.
Money also is being raised for future expenses through the Go Fund Me website. It had more than $90,000 of a $300,000 goal by Friday afternoon.
Although a visa extension has not been confirmed, the State Department has been cooperative, Tirmizi said. He noted that the State Department notified Shahzaib’s family of the accident and helped to arrange their transportation to Duluth. The brothers’ mother is in Duluth, living in an apartment with Shahraiz. Their father died in 2005.
The situation was one of the subjects of the State Department’s press briefing Thursday, conducted by conference call.
Deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said determining whether someone is allowed to stay in the country is not the State Department’s “call.”
It’s a “complicated question,” Harf said, but the State Department is trying to help.
“We at the State Department are making every effort to offer as much flexibility as possible in maintaining his status while the family considers their options,” she said.