MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A diplomat who visited the family of a Pakistani student who's been hospitalized for three months said Thursday they were relieved by details of a deal that resolves his visa and insurance issues to ensure he can stay in the U.S. and get the long-term care he needs.
Muhammad Shahzaib Bajwa was enrolled in a fall semester exchange program at the University of Wisconsin-Superior and was riding in a fellow student's car that struck a deer Nov. 13. He suffered severe facial injuries, cardiac arrest and brain damage. Bajwa remains in a coma in fair condition at Essentia Health-St. Mary's Medical Center in Duluth.
His family said last week that hospital officials were pressuring them to agree to his return to Pakistan because his visa was about to expire at the end of this month.
Pakistan's consul general from Chicago, Faisal Niaz Tirmizi, drove to Duluth to meet with Bajwa's family Wednesday night to tell them about the solution nailed down by Pakistani and U.S. diplomats and hospital officials.
"I wanted to meet them and when I told them the issue was resolved, they were visibly relieved," Tirmizi told The Associated Press on Thursday, Bajwa's 21st birthday.
The State Department agreed to work with the Department of Homeland Security to get Bajwa a visa that will allow him to stay, Tirmizi said, and the insurance carrier for Bajwa's exchange program agreed to cover up to $90,000 of his expenses at a long-term care facility in the Duluth area.
"When the two governments decide to work together they can do wonders on a humanitarian issue," Tirmizi said.
Bajwa's brother, Shahraiz Bajwa, said the news from the consul general came as a huge relief to him and his mother. He said he'd been particularly worried about the stress on his widowed mother, who suffers from high blood pressure, diabetes and heart problems.
Shahraiz Bajwa said hospital officials will offer them some choices for a suitable long-term care facility in the Duluth area, probably in the next week or so, and the insurance company will pay his brother's bills until the $90,000 runs out or the one-year anniversary of the accident — whichever comes first.
While Essentia Health officials have said privacy laws prevent them from commenting on the case, Shahraiz Bajwa said consular officials told him the hospital has played a "very positive" role and that its officials had been "very helpful" in reaching the solution.
State Department spokesman Mark Thornburg did not immediately return messages Thursday, but said last week the State Department was working with the hospital, family, exchange program sponsors and Pakistan's embassy to help the Bajwas.
Knowing that the family eventually would have to cover medical costs, Shahraiz Bajwa launched an online fundraising campaign last week that had netted over $132,000 by Thursday, and he said they are grateful for all the help.
Shahzaib Bawja, an anthropology and sociology major, can open his eyes, squeeze his mother's hand, shrug his shoulders and has some movement in his legs, his brother said. But Bawja will need reconstructive facial surgery at some point, and eventually they'll need to take him home to Pakistan.
Tirmizi paid tribute to the Bajwa family for their persistence, noting that the brothers are not from an affluent family but earned college scholarships and were both accepted into exchange programs. He also expressed gratitude for the outpouring of support from ordinary Americans, Pakistani-Americans and from Pakistan.
"When one human being suffers, people unite," he said.