The family of a comatose Pakistani student who is hospitalized in Duluth faces a major decision about where to continue his care, his brother and a Pakistani official say.
Muhammad Shahzaib Bajwa, 20, has been cared for at Essentia Health-St. Mary's Medical Center since Nov. 13, after he went into a coma following an automobile accident on Interstate 35 near Cloquet.
He was an exchange student at the University of Wisconsin-
Superior when the accident occurred, but was enrolled only for the fall semester, UWS spokesman Tom Hansen said. Bajwa's student visa expires on Feb. 28, leading to the possibility that he wouldn't be permitted to stay in the U.S. to continue his care.
Although there's no longer an immediate concern that Bajwa will have to leave the country, hospital officials have decided it's time to move Bajwa into long-term care, said Faisal Niaz Tirmizi, the Pakistani general consul in Chicago.
Tirmizi was in Duluth on Wednesday and early Thursday to meet with the family and continue to intervene on their behalf.
The situation also has been the subject of conference calls among the State Department, the Pakistani Embassy and doctors at the hospital in recent days, said Nadeem Hotiana, spokesman for the Embassy.
State Department press officer Drew Bailey said she couldn't comment on any plans to relocate Bajwa.
"The State Department continues to work with the hospital, the student program sponsors and others to assist this young man and his family during this very difficult time," Bailey said.
Essentia Health spokeswoman Maureen Talarico said the hospital likewise couldn't comment on Bajwa's status because of privacy concerns.
"We're working collaboratively with the family and the caregivers and both the Pakistani and U.S. governments in trying to reach the best outcome possible for Mr. Bajwa and his family," Talarico said.
She did confirm that Bajwa still is being treated at St. Mary's Medical Center and is listed in fair condition.
Bajwa's brother, Shahraiz Bajwa, said he has been told the hospital will suggest two or three possible long-term facilities to him and his mother, who have been in Duluth since shortly after the accident. Shahraiz and his mother will choose a facility from among those options.
The $90,000 available through a health insurance policy that was part of his student exchange program can be used to cover the cost of long-term care until Nov. 13 or until it runs out, whichever comes first, Shahraiz said. The hospital is absorbing the cost of his brother's care while he's there.
Shahraiz said the family hopes the insurance money will cover all of his brother's time at a long-term care facility. The money raised to help his brother's medical care then could be used for facial reconstruction surgery and additional rehabilitation.
As of Thursday, more than $130,000 had been raised for Shahzaib on the "Go Fund Me" website.
Everyone involved agrees that Shahzaib's visa status is no longer an issue, although it's not clear that his visa actually has been extended.
"We are making every effort to offer as much flexibility as possible in maintaining his status while the family considers their options," Bailey said.
Tirmizi praised the efforts of the State Department, the hospital, UWS and local supporters to help the Bajwa family. On the international level, the two governments have worked closely together, he said.
On the local level, he said, he was touched to meet someone from UWS in Shahzaib's hospital room when he came for a visit on Wednesday evening.
"It's a great thing that one tragedy has brought so many people, so many institutions together," he said. "It has revived my faith in humanity."