MINNEAPOLIS — Diplomats have worked out arrangements to let a Pakistani exchange student who's been hospitalized in a coma since a crash in November stay in the U.S. for continued medical care, his brother said Wednesday.
Muhammad Shahzaib Bajwa was spending a semester in an exchange program at the University of Wisconsin-Superior when he was riding in a fellow student's car that struck a deer. Bajwa suffered severe facial injuries and eventual cardiac arrest and brain damage.
Bajwa has been at Essentia Health-St. Mary's Medical Center in Duluth, where his family said last week that officials were pressuring them to agree to his return to Pakistan because his visa was about to expire at the end of this month. His family said they feared the long flight home would hasten his death, and even if he survived it, he was unlikely to get adequate care.
His brother, Shahraiz Bajwa, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Pakistan's consul general in Chicago told him his brother's visa is not an issue anymore. The consult general also said the exchange program's insurance company has agreed to pay for a long-term care facility in the Duluth area for a while, after which the family would have to pay for care, Bajwa said.
Shahraiz Bajwa said he didn't know the details of the arrangements, but the consul general was driving to Duluth from Chicago to give him and his mother more information. He said they were encouraged but wanted to see more information in writing about how his brother's visa would be handled and how his bills would be paid.
Consulate officials did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
State Department spokesman Mark Thornburg said he had no new information on Bajwa's case. But he said last week that the State Department was working with the hospital, family, exchange program sponsors and Pakistan's embassy to help the student and his family and make sure he got the best care.
Muhammad Bajwa remained in fair condition at St. Mary's on Wednesday, hospital spokeswoman Maureen Talarico said, but privacy laws prevented her from providing other information about him.
Shahraiz Bajwa expressed gratitude for support his family has received, saying their "love and encouragement" helped strengthen their case. He said an online fundraising campaign he launched last week has raised about $131,000.
He said his brother, an anthropology and sociology major, can open his eyes, squeeze his mother's hand, shrug his shoulders and has some movement in his legs, but doctors have said it could take up to a couple years to determine how much more he might recover. He also still needs surgery for his facial injuries.
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.
Bajwa's care costs have reached around $350,000, his brother said.