LAHORE: Relatives of a Pakistani student left comatose following a traffic accident in the United States have raised thousands of dollars for his treatment after an insurance company refused to cover the whole cost.
Muhammad Shahzaib Bajwa, 20, has been in a coma since last November when a deer struck a car carrying him and friends from the city of Minneapolis back to the University of Wisconsin-Superior where he was spending a semester abroad.
The deer’s antlers pierced his face and broke his nose, although he was still able to speak. But once at the hospital, he choked on his own blood and suffered a heart attack.
His brother Shahraiz, who has come to the US to help, said the insurance company was pressing the family to sign off on returning Shahzaib to Pakistan once his visa runs out on February 28, threatening not to pay evacuation costs if the family refuses.
“My mother is not going to sign because that would be like killing her son with her own hand,” the elder Bajwa told AFP on Wednesday, adding he feared his brother would not survive the 24-hour flight.
By Thursday evening, an online appeal on the site gofundme.com created by Shahraiz to pay for his brother’s ongoing medical care and apply for a visa extension had raised more than $20,000 of its $100,000 target.
A change.org petition created by a friend that calls on the United States to extend his visa has so far gathered over 1,000 signatures many of which came from Americans. A spokeswoman from the Foreign Ministry said Pakistani officials had been in touch with the US State Department and were told extending Shahzaib’s visa was “not a problem” if the family could raise funds for his care.
“The matter has been taken up with the State Department. Essentially visa extension is not a problem,” Tasnim Aslam said, adding his future course of care was now “up to the family”.
The Essentia Health-St Mary’s Medical Center in Duluth, Minnesota, has so far provided Shahzaib $350,000 worth of treatment for free.
The insurance company has an upper limit of $100,000 for the exchange programme, which it wants to use on his repatriation costs.
Shahzaib’s uncle Ammanat Hussain Sahi told AFP his nephew was a bright student whose father had died leaving the family reliant on his pension and a small land holding they might need to sell to finance his treatment.
Sohail H Naqvi, vice chancellor of the Lahore University of Management Sciences which Shahzaib attended, said: “He is a student of LUMS under its national outreach programme, which offers scholarships to bright students from the families with limited resources.”
Shahzaib was well known on campus as a liberal activist who co-founded the university’s first-ever Feminist Society, Nida Kirmani, one of his professors, told AFP.
“He was one of my best students, really committed to social justice,” she said, adding he was “outspoken in class in his support for feminism which is quite rare in Pakistan”.
A friend of Shahzaib’s, Nabiha Meher Shaikh, added: “I’m quite devastated, I’m trying to not cry. The thought of him being sent back to die is ridiculous. If the US wants to prove they care about Pakistan they should do something.”
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